The author lost her innocent teenaged daughter, Kristie, when she was killed in a tragic incident involving a police pursuit, and has become an advocate seeking justice for innocent victims of pursuit throughout the United States, and especially in California. LA Community Policing has covered the changes in Pursuit Policy at LAPD, and encourages you to read and digest Ms. Priano's important article. Then be sure to vist the website: http://www.KristiesLaw.org/
the real tragedy . . .
by Candy Merchant Priano
Today’s media, including shows like “Cops” and the sanitized chases in the latest action flick (and even the inappropriate jokes about police chases), have all played a part in minimizing the inherent dangers these police vehicular pursuits pose to innocent bystanders.
When deadly chases occur in real life, journalists must rely heavily on law enforcement public relation officials to give them information about the chases that involved one or more of their officers.
So every time an innocent person is killed in a pursuit, law enforcement can say to the media and through them to us, these statements:
| "The pursuit just got started."
"We were not chasing; we were 'following' or trying to 'catch up' to the suspect."
"The pursuit was not high-speed."
"It was not a pursuit."
But families of innocent victims know these pursuits were long enough and at speeds high enough to kill and permanently injure their innocent loved ones.
This month marks the fourth year since my innocent daughter, Kristie, was ripped away from us. And, contrary to what people say, the years do not dull the pain; it is no easier for me today than it was on that dark winter night — January 22, 2002.
As with most victims of pursuit, I never thought it would happen to me. And yet, every day in the United States, another mother, father, sister or brother learns what I already know: high-speed police chases kill … and, more than one-third of the time, they kill the innocent.
A fleeing teenager plowed into our van. She had taken her mother's car without permission. Officers knew her identity and disregarded their own pursuit policy by continuing to chase the teen through a poorly lit residential neighborhood.
Six months later, I started searching for answers. I learned that Kristie did not need to die to keep others safe. In fact, the fleeing teen went home with her mother that night, while a neurosurgeon told me to pray for a miracle.
Now I pray for the families of California’s latest victims of pursuit. This past weekend was especially tragic for victims of pursuit in California: four innocent people (three in Anaheim and one in the San Gabriel Valley) were killed in two different police chases. In December, a CHP officer and two innocent victims (a 3-year-old boy and a grandfather) were killed in three separate California chases. Please read about these innocent victims of pursuit at: http://www.kristieslaw.org/victimsNational.htm and click on the state of California.
The Anaheim chase, initially covered as a police chase by both ABC news and the OC Register, has been updated. In the most recent OC Register story, the reporter referred to it as a "suspected” police pursuit. I have never heard the term "suspected” police pursuit. This story, along with limited media coverage about the 3-year-old boy who was killed in a Pasadena pursuit in December and the fourth pursuit death of an innocent victim last weekend, concerns me because pursuit deaths are already under-reported, which mean not all fatalities by pursuit are reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Forty percent of all police chases end in a crash, and the majority of suspects caught in these chases are released back into the streets before officers finish their paperwork.
Victims of pursuit are also summarily dismissed. Shortly after burying my Kristie, I observed California officers on TV. They showed so much compassion for victims of other crimes. Sheriffs and police chiefs would stand beside grieving families and say: “You know what ... I cannot stand even one innocent person getting killed.”
Yet, when an innocent victim of a police pursuit is killed, most officers act as if we don’t exist. Families of victims of pursuit share stories of how law enforcement and city officials respond with silence, an effective weapon because it refuses to engage the issues. At Kristie’s funeral, the outpouring of love and support from the people of Chico was so comforting. Yet, I truly expected to see officers dressed in blue. I truly expected to see and be approached by city officials. None of this happened, and please keep in mind that there was no Kristie’s Law at this time.
What was going through my mind was that I would wake up. Kristie would come bopping down the stairs and start talking non-stop. She would wrap her arms around me and say, “I love you, Mom.” She did that all the time. I thought I would have her hugs for the rest of my life.
Hoping the city of Chico would contact us became fruitless, so my husband, Mark, and I initiated a meeting with Chico’s Internal Affairs Committee. During this meeting, Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty actually told us that officers chased the teen who had taken her mother's vehicle without permission because "she might have killed herself." After realizing what he had said, he quickly added, "... or someone else."
Someone else was killed: My Kristie.
People are often not aware of how frequently these chases occur. Pursuit crashes occur one at a time throughout the country, so only the loved ones left behind to bury the dead and take care of the permanently injured feel the full brunt of the deaths and injuries.
No untimely death is more tragic than another. When I buried Kristie, I knew absolutely nothing about police vehicular pursuits. Now I know more than I ever imagined about this topic. I learned that the killing of my Kristie and other innocent victims is preventable, and Kristie’s death did not keep the citizens of Chico safe. I invite you to read about Chico's deadly chase at this link: http://www.kristieslaw.org/chico_deadlychase.htm
One of Kristie’s teachers set up the Kristie's Law Web site in January of 2003. Since then, the site has grown and has a stronger national focus. I was doing research on Mississippi pursuits when a link to LA Community Policing came up because Linda McCoy, a co-founder of Victims of Pursuit in Mississippi, wrote a letter to your organization. After receiving a phone call from Linda in July 2002, I have had the privilege of meeting Linda when we shared our tragic stories on The John Walsh talk show in January 2003.
You can see by the Kristie's Law mission statement and the contents of the site that I am very supportive of law enforcement. Victims of pursuit know that if the suspects did not flee, these tragedies would not happen. And, just as true, we also know that if officers had and were mandated to follow "public-safety first" pursuit policies, these tragedies would not happen either.
One, only one state senator, Republican Senator Sam Aanestad, tried to make real changes to California's outdated and dangerous pursuit laws; not to ban pursuits but to restrict pursuits to violent felons and to make sure law enforcement agencies were held accountable if officers failed to follow their pursuit policy.
Someday, I will write a couple articles about the politics in Sacramento. But for now, all I can say is that in 2003 and 2004 Senator Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, was very outspoken about changing our current state law that does not require officers to follow their pursuit policies. In 2005, something changed and Senator Romero carried a measure backed by law enforcement groups. The media called this "do-nothing" measure a counter proposal to Kristie’s Law. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Romero’s bill on Oct. 4, 2005, and it became law Jan. 1, 2006. … and 14 days later, four more innocent Californians were killed in pursuit crashes. Learn more about this new pursuit law at: http://www.kristieslaw.org/questions.htm
In 2004, Kristie’s Law was very broad, addressing many aspects of pursuit. In 2005, Kristie’s Law was simple: a state law to restrict police chases to violent felons. Ahead of his time for California, Senator Aanestad was following the national trend to restrict pursuits to violent felons when he re-introduced Kristie’s Law in 2005. (See what happened in Los Angeles when Chief William Bratton restricted pursuits. Click on this link: http://www.driveandstayalive.com/articles and topics/police issues/police-pursuit-policies-001_LAPD-2003-08.htm)
Today, my version of Kristie's Law is three-fold:
||Fleeing for any reason is a felony with mandatory prison time, whether or not someone dies or is permanently disabled. Violators will also receive a hefty, mandatory fine. Monies collected will be deposited in a fund to build a state-of-the-art pursuit-training track for officers. Number 1 is essential in order to effectively implement Number 2.
||Officers can only pursue violent felons.
||Law enforcement agencies (public entities) would be held accountable to innocent victims of pursuit if officers failed to follow their pursuit policy.
Senator Aanestad, an oral surgeon in private life, has compared efforts to restrict police pursuits to Florence Nightingale's campaign in the 1800s to convince doctors they must wash their hands before doing surgery. She was laughed at, but she persisted, he told the Senate committee on April 26, 2005, after Kristie’s Law was defeated a second time.
"I hope someday you'll listen," he said.