CHICO, Calif., Oct. 31, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) --
By Ellen Tucker
PursuitSAFETY Media Relations Associate
PursuitSAFETY presented its 2013 Safer Way Award to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) during the 120th International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Conference at the Highway Safety Awards Breakfast in Philadelphia on October 22. PursuitSAFETY each year honors a law enforcement department that has made significant, well-designed revisions to its vehicular pursuit practice and policy, increasing safety both for police officers and the responsible driving public.
Founded in 2007, PursuitSAFETY is the only national nonprofit civilian organization working to reduce deaths of innocent bystanders and police officers resulting from the violent crashes that repeatedly occur when drivers flee police. The organization also provides much-needed support to bereaved families and injured innocent victims of vehicular police pursuits.
LVMPD Lt. John Farrell, who was instrumental in the development of his department's progressive pursuit training methodology, and Sgt. Dave Sims received the award on behalf of the LVMPD. Retired Minneapolis Police Chief Timothy Dolan, who serves on PursuitSAFETY's advisory board, and PursuitSAFETY founder and executive director Candy Priano made the award presentation.
Priano said the LVMPD nomination exemplified the thoughtful, innovative approach needed to apprehend offenders without endangering the driving public. "We all understand that drivers who flee from the police do not behave rationally or responsibly," Priano noted. "The public depends on law enforcement to exercise caution, restraint, and good judgment."
In nominating his agency for the award, LVMPD Deputy Chief Gary Schofield detailed a series of targeted strategies that "have significantly reduced the number of pursuits and . . . provided a training and awareness level second to none." Schofield said the LVMPD began a review of its pursuit practices in 2004, a year in which 260 pursuits occurred. By 2009, the number of pursuits had been reduced to 57, but three fatal collisions resulting from pursuits prompted another comprehensive review, which led to a new Safe Driving Policy.
To better implement the policy, the department appointed a Pursuit Review Committee in 2011. This team studied actual pursuits that officers in the department had conducted. Their study revealed that the department's "supervisors, both Sergeants and Lieutenants, needed a clearer understanding of how to handle a pursuit in real time," Schofield said.
That year, the department implemented a training program for higher-ranking officers, focused on listening to and analyzing radio dispatches between duty officers and their supervisors. The training helps supervisors identify the information that needs to be communicated as potential pursuit scenarios unfold.
The next year, the Pursuit Review Committee developed a new "Pursuit Awareness" course for lower-ranking officers and new sergeants, also providing it at no cost to neighboring law enforcement agencies. Pursuits that begin in other jurisdictions can enter LVMPD's territory and vice versa, Schofield noted.
Schofield said the class emphasizes that crimes warranting risky vehicular pursuits must meet a clear threshold of threat to the public: the fleeing driver must have committed a violent felony and officers must have no "safer alternative" for apprehending the suspect. With officers trained to meet this standard, the number of pursuits in 2012 dropped to 34, a 41% reduction in three years.
This policy has not resulted in an increased crime rate, Farrell said. "We are still capturing about 80% of all drivers who run from police," he stated, adding that when helicopter support is available, "we catch suspects 90% of the time, regardless of whether we pursue or not." To illustrate how air support helps, Farrell cited the capture of a car theft suspect who failed to yield to an officer. The officer disengaged and called in air support as the suspect continued on his way at normal speeds, stopping at traffic lights. Tracked to an auto dealership, the suspect was arrested after he bailed out of the stolen car and attempted to flee on foot.
Farrell explained to PursuitSAFETY that the training program is regularly updated and refined. "The LVMPD Pursuit Review Committee looks at every pursuit, not for discipline reasons, but to identify training issues or concerns that need to be addressed," he wrote in an email. "These training issues are then put into the Pursuit Awareness course or bulletins to officers and discussed at length. The whole purpose of the course is to ensure that police officers are receiving up-to-date relevant training on pursuits and their driving ability."
Dolan commended the LVMPD for studying their own pursuit experiences so as to determine how to revise policy and practice. This self-examination results in "good common sense procedures that protect us all," he said.
Priano said she particularly likes the department's daily "Vehicular Safety" reminder that populates each officer's computer screen when they log on each day. The short reminder may offer safe driving tips, statistics related to driving conduct, or short video clips regarding risk.
Maryville, IL, Police Chief Richard Schardan, Sr., the award program administrator, expressed admiration for the LVMPD. "It is heartwarming to see a department realize that safety to the public is more important than the immediate apprehension of non-violent offenders. I hope all departments will follow the professionalism and leadership of the LVMPD."
The LVMPD is one of a growing number of law enforcement agencies around the country that have implemented restrictive pursuit policies. In Texas, for example, the Dallas Police Department adopted a model pursuit policy backed by training and accountability procedures in 2006. The department prohibits pursuits for any offense other than a violent felony. In commendation of this clearly written and enforced policy, PursuitSAFETY presented the Dallas department its 2012 Safer Way Award. In 2011, the St. Louis County Police Department received the first Safer Way Award for apprehending a gang of car burglars without a pursuit. Instead, they used good detective work and spike sticks—tire deflation devices—that they deployed at the exits to the rest area after the suspects drove into the rest area and burglarized an unoccupied vehicle. St. Louis County detectives returned stolen items to the gang's last victims and to other victims from previous burglaries.
PursuitSAFETY's board members review nominations for the award before submitting them to the Highway Safety Committee of the IACP, who make the final selection. The committee will judge the 2014 nominees based on achievements prior to and through the year 2013. The submission period for PursuitSAFETY's 2014 Safer Way Award will begin February 1, 2014 and end March 31, 2014. Nomination forms will be at pursuitsafety.org.
PursuitSAFETY is the only national nonprofit civilian organization working to reduce deaths and injuries of innocent bystanders and police officers as a result of vehicular police pursuit and response call crashes. We are working for a safer way through educational outreach to the public and to law enforcement and by uniting families of innocent victims. Learn more at www.pursuitsafety.org.
A photo accompanying this release is available at:
CONTACT: Candy Priano Executive Director (530) 343-9754 (W) (530) 519-9754 (C) firstname.lastname@example.org