The latest high speed pursuit by Wyoming State Troopers ended in a crash on West Main Street. (Jason Kintzler photo)
(Riverton, Wyo.) – Police Chief Mike Broadhead reaffirmed his department’s high speed pursuit policy in the wake of two such incidents within the past several weeks. In one incident, a motorist failed to stop for an emergency vehicle inside the city limits, and after the suspect accelerated to a high rate of speed and ran a red light, the pursuit was called off. That suspect was captured about 30 miles later by a different jurisdiction. In a second incident, a high speed chase that originated outside of the city and came into the city limits, police cleared intersections and used spike strips to try to stop the motorist, but they did not follow the pursuit. That chase ended in a crash on West Main Street.
Other law enforcement agencies in the county, and state, have different pursuit polices. In the latter case, the pursuit began north of Thermopolis in Hot Springs County and involved law enforcement from five different agencies. “We’ve told the other jurisdictions that we won’t join in their pursuits. We’ll certainly help by stopping traffic, putting down spike strips and the like. We won’t ignore them.”
Broadhead said his department’s goal is to reduce the number of high speed pursuits, “which, in my opinion, are one of the most dangerous things we do in law enforcement,” he said in an interview with County10.com on Thursday. “Our job is to make a community safer, but these pursuits create a dangerous situation.”
The police chief cited statistics that 80 percent of all police pursuits end in a crash. “Are we really helping if someone steals a car and then crashes it while we chase them?” he asked rhetorically. “I’m always concerned that innocent people are the ones who get hurt in a pursuit. We try to find a balance and I’ve asked our officers to consider how important is it to catch the guy today, especially if we know the bandit.” The exception, of course, is if there is concern the fleeing suspect will do some some other felonious crime right away. “If we know who the suspect is, we don’t have to pursue. We can catch them later.”
In that regard, the Chief said the RPD will only engage in a pursuit if the accused has committed a violent felony against another person or persons. “And even then we rely on our officers to make good judgement calls taking into account the weather, traffic conditions, the suspect’s driving behavior, time of day and such.” The chief said officers are trained to look for overt signs of escape. “If a suspect knows they are being followed with lights and sirens and they choose to try to escape, that’s an overt sign.”
The Riverton chief said the Fremont County Sheriff’s Department “did an admirable job” of trying to keep the high speed chase from Thermopolis from entering town. “They deployed spike strips well before she got here, but these chases are dynamic, the suspect weaved her way around the strips, and, true to form, the chase ended with a crash that caused a lot of property damage.”
Broadhead acknowledged that it was “not the most popular policy I ever put in place with the officers,” but he said he thinks they now see the wisdom of trying to reduce high speed pursuits.
The summary of the RPD pursuit policy is as follows:
“It is the policy of the Riverton Police Department that law violators be apprehended whenever reasonably possible in light of existing conditions and the totality of the circumstances. All personnel operating department vehicles shall exercise due regard for the safety of all persons. As a general rule, high speed pursuits are prohibited when the potential danger to the officer, or the general public, outweighs the potential advantages of apprehending a fleeing suspect in a vehicle. Conversely it is not in the best interests of public safety to advocate a policy that would encourage the dangerous violent criminal to proceed without the imminent potential of police intervention.”