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St. Petersburg police chase policy warrants another look

A recent police chase that resulted in a four-car crash with multiple injuries to innocent victims raises the question: Should St. Petersburg officials consider taking another look at the chase policy?

It's a fair question, considering the pursuit was for an unarmed purse snatcher.

Here's what was glaring about this incident:

• The chase took place just after 5 p.m. on busy 49th Street.

• The alleged armed robbery was a purse snatching.

• A day later police officials admitted that the man they were chasing, Kenneth Gordon Davis Jr., who died of injuries suffered in the crash, was unarmed but had snatched a purse a few days earlier.

The crash comes two years after the St. Petersburg Police Department eased its pursuit policies, which previously had allowed officers to pursue suspects only in violent felonies. It was one of the area's most restrictive chase policies until the guidelines were loosened.

"I'm waiting for the facts and the investigation to be concluded before I can comment," Mayor Bill Foster said on Friday. "With any authorized pursuit there are a number of conditions that must be weighed.''

So does the benefit of getting a purse snatcher off the streets outweigh the safety of other residents?

"I'm asking the same questions that you and the public are asking," said Foster.

Here's what police officials have said about the incident:

• An unarmed purse-snatching qualifies as a violent felony.

• The chase would have been allowed under the old policy.

• The chase was brief.

"It appears this was a justified pursuit under the current policy," police spokesman Bill Proffitt said last week, adding that the department is reviewing the pursuit.

But even the current policy stipulates that officers consider calling off a pursuit if they know the identity of the suspect and there is a likelihood that the suspect can be tracked down under safer circumstances.

The officers involved in the chase knew Davis was wanted for a purse-snatching incident from days earlier.

There's little justification for giving chase to an unarmed purse snatcher, whose identity is known to at least one of the units involved — especially during rush hour.

To be sure, all crimes are to be taken seriously, including those committed by a purse-snatching drug addict.

Yes, the incident in question was a robbery. And yes, even unarmed robbery is considered a violent felony. But somewhere along the way — between the 35 blocks where Davis was first spotted and where the chase ended — someone needed to think, and blink.

St. Petersburg Police Department got off lucky this time: The bad guy received the worst of the injuries.

Sure, some will look at the incident and claim the system works. But the victims, three motorists and injured passengers, deserve better. So do law-abiding taxpayers who just want to get home after a long day at work.

One of the victims of Tuesday afternoon's crash put it best: "There's other ways to catch people," said Nelson Guzman, 46, who suffered a fractured neck and injured shoulder.

For incidents like this one, discretion should rule the day.

Maybe the only change needed to the chase policy is placing the common-sense clause on the first line.

Sandra J. Gadsden is an assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at sgadsden@tampabay.com or at (727) 893-8874.

St. Petersburg police chase policy warrants another look 01/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 14, 2012 3:31am]

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