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Editorial board chides Foster, Wagman on police car chase policy



ST. PETERSBURG -- Here's what the St. Petersburg Times editorial board thinks about Bill Foster's and Scott Wagman's stance on the Police Department's car chase policy:

Two candidates for St. Petersburg mayor seem to care more about garnering the endorsement of the city's police than in the safety of motorists and pedestrians.

Former City Council member Bill Foster and businessman Scott Wagman said they would alter the current no-chase policy of the St. Petersburg Police Department that restricts officers from instigating a car chase except when pursuing violent felons. The candidates said they would allow pursuit of nonviolent suspects, even though a looser standard would undoubtedly lead to more injuries and deaths of innocents.

The city's police union has long chafed under the no-chase policy and has pressed police Chief Chuck Harmon to allow the pursuit of suspected car thieves and drug dealers. But St. Petersburg's policy is the most reasonable and responsible in the Tampa Bay area. Hot pursuits by other local law enforcement agencies with looser chase standards have resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries over the last two decades.

Harmon makes a good point when he says that granting more latitude to police pursuers would put the public at risk even though a low-level criminal like a car thief would likely be released from jail quickly.

One of the mayoral candidates, businessman Deveron Gibbons, said his sister was injured a few years ago by a fleeing suspect who crashed his car into hers.

Wagman believes that police training and proper procedures would minimize the risk to public safety, but without a clear policy ending pursuits, experience tells us that officers in the heat of the moment will chase a suspect who tries to elude their grasp. St. Petersburg's bright-line no-chase policy is the best way to protect the public safety. Foster and Wagman should rethink their positions.


[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:59am]


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