09/17/10 — Highway patrol changes chase policy

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Highway patrol changes chase policy

By Laura Collins
Published in News on September 17, 2010 1:46 PM

North Carolina Highway Patrol officials have made a change to the patrol's chase policy -- in the wake of several accidents and liability concerns.

According to First Sgt. G.L. Burton, troopers will no longer take over vehicle chases that originate in other jurisdictions by other law enforcement agencies.

"The change was made for liability issues," Burton said. "In the past, law enforcement agencies would contact us (if they were involved in a pursuit), we would get involved and then they would back out of the chase completely."

Burton said he didn't know why this was common, but said it's likely because the other law enforcement agencies "wanted to reduce their liability and didn't have the expertise to continue" the chase.

Burton said if there is another law enforcement agency that has initiated the chase and the troopers are notified, they will take a secondary position in the chase.

"If the primary agency backs out of the chase, we will back out also. We still want (the troopers) to be a part of the chase, we're just not going to take the primary position," he said. "Most chases end with some sort of a crash. If it's us (who are in the primary position), we're assuming all the liability of the chase -- if someone is injured, if a fatality happens, if shots are fired and someone is wrongly injured or the chance of someone suing."

Burton added that the reaction to the change from area law enforcement agencies has been varied.

"Some departments are accepting of it and some don't like it at all," he said. "For troopers, it's just business as usual for them."

Goldsboro police Maj. Jeff Stewart said he understands why the highway patrol made the change and added that he's confident the police department will continue executing pursuits in the city appropriately and the officers are "definitely capable" of remaining in the primary position during a chase.

"In Goldsboro, it doesn't happen a lot that the highway patrol gets involved. Most of our (chases) are quick. They either jump and run or don't go very far," Stewart said.

He did say, however, that having any additional help in a chase is good because it typically leads to a quicker end.

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said he's not happy about the change in the highway patrol chase policy and that he will now have to change the sheriff's office policy, as well, so it complies.

"We were letting the highway patrol be the primary because it's the highway patrol, they are more qualified and it's more in their realm of work. They are highway patrol, they do the road law more than we do. A deputy sheriff does not do accident reports just like a highway patrol officer doesn't serve civil process," Winders said.

Winders also said the liability concerns don't really add up.

"Everyone in the chase is going to be liable if something goes wrong," he said. "Even if they become secondary, say something was to happen, an accident happens, the lawyer in the lawsuit is going to say to us, 'Why wouldn't you drop back and let them take it since they have more experience?' I think they've just opened themselves up even more."

Winders added the deputies know how to conduct a chase, but agreed that the troopers have more experience in that area.

"It's not an issue of us knowing how to do a chase, but those guys (troopers) have received more training. They have a track which they practice on," Winders said.

The sheriff expects to institute a new chase policy for the sheriff's office within the next 30 days.