Fairfax County has seen its fair share of high-profile car chases this year. However, the police department says it is in the name of best-practice, that they introduced guidelines for when officers should start and stop a high-speed chase.
“The preservation of all human life is paramount… we moved that up to the front of the page to make it very clear that human life is the key factor in making a decision.” said Chief Edwin Roessler, at a Board Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday.
Roessler said in 2017, there were 149 high-speed chases, in 2016, 134 and 2015, 118. In total, 42 people were injured during the three year span. 11 of those injured, were “uninvolved” bystanders.
The chief explained that the county has become a “highly congested urbanized area that requires a high level of justification to engage in a pursuit.”
To help better gage when engaging in a pursuit is “justified,” the department has rolled out three elements they say must be met.
The officer has reasonable, articulable suspicion that a driver and/or passengers have committed, have attempted to commit, are committing, or have threatened to use violence to commit a violent felony against a person; other criminal offense; or a traffic infraction; and
The driver refuses to stop when given the signal to do so; and
The need for immediate apprehension outweighs the danger created by the pursuit to the public, officers and offender, including passengers.
The list left some Fairfax County Supervisors with more questions that answers.
“I’m still concerned that the policy is vague. Anything that would allow a stop is encompassed within that paragraph (paragraph one)…” said Supervisor John Cook, head of the public safety committee.
“These are all words on a paper…. and it really comes down to ‘how is it gonna be trained?’ Because to me, this is really, really vague.” echoed Supervisor Pat Herrity.
Roessler assured supervisors that the policy includes track training for officers with refresher training every 3 years.
He also re-emphasized the importance of communication in the event of cross jurisdictional pursuits.
“You don’t know what the level of violence is. Clearly in this enhancement we need to ascertain the charges and make a decision to terminate the pursuit based upon whether or not it fits our policy.”
Additionally, Roessler said that if the need for emergency medical attention arises during a pursuit, that pursuit should be cancelled so the officer can render aid.