Safety Behind the Wheel
with Travis Yates
Police Pursuit Advocates: What can we learn?
Throughout the years, law enforcement has had it’s share of anti-police activists and fringe groups that make it their mission to rebut actions of LE and to hamper potential progress. The presence of these groups is nothing new. With the advent of the Internet, the presence has not only grown but has also given a public voice to groups and individuals that would not normally have the means to speak out.
As a thirteen-year veteran of law enforcement, I am too familiar with some of the destruction certain groups and individuals can cause to the morale of a police department. Around the Country, it is all too common to see police administrators and politicians bow down to a group without a vital reason. I, like many other officers, have become hardened and weary about individuals and groups that carry a negative attitude about a profession that I care deeply about. My attitude changed a few years ago.
As my career progressed, I found a real purpose in trying to make the lives of officers safer as it related to driving and police pursuits. As the Internet became an important aspect in training, I began the development of a web site in early 2003. That is when the hardened attitude that I developed about advocates took a positive turn.
As I was conducting research, I ran across an Internet ad titled: “Hot Pursuit and how it can go horribly wrong.” You can imagine what my initial thoughts were. The last thing I needed to see was another cop hater. I could have easily left the ad but fortunately I looked at the site and stumbled on a number of goals that Pursuit Watch had. Strangely enough the ideas of the moderator looked much like mine. Mandatory training, strict laws for eluding suspects, and adequate pursuit policies were just some of the goals. The likeness of what this citizen was saying and what I strived for, changed my attitude from that day forward.
The LE Profession is a tight knit group. Outsiders are rarely accepted as part of the group and citizens that want to change police practices are often seen as obstructionists and troublemakers. When I saw the Pursuit Watch web site and subsequently spoke to the owner, Jim Phillips, I didn’t see a troublemaker. I saw a man that recognized a problem and was doing everything he could to fix that problem. It took incredible courage for Jim to do what he was doing. On December 13, 2001, a suspect that was engaged in a police pursuit killed Jim’s daughter, Sarah.
I learned a lot of lessons from Jim Phillips. The most important is that the answers to problems are not always found within LE. Citizens and groups have a lot to offer and for LE to improve, we must listen. While it is true that some groups do not have good intentions, that is not true for every group. Jim Phillips has made an incredible impact on law enforcement safety. I am not ashamed to say that while I am an officer, this citizen has been able to do more than me. Through Jim’s dogmatic approach to pursuit safety, several LE Agencies have improved on their pursuit policies and training. Jim died suddenly on February 3, 2006, of a heart attack. While my friend is now gone, there is no doubt that his impact on the safety of officers and citizens will be seen for years to come.
Candy Priano is the driving force behind Kristie’s Law. This proposed legislation seeks to standardize police pursuit policy in the State of California. There has been controversy surrounding the law and much of it has to do with the fact that an advocate is behind it rather than a LE association. Candy’s daughter, Kristie, was killed during a police pursuit. Unthinkable tragedy led Candy Priano to the LE profession. Similar to Jim Phillips, the courage it took for Candy to do that should not be ignored.
I have been criticized in my association with advocates such as Candy and Jim. That hardened attitude used to be mine so I understand where that comes from. LE must come to the realization that ideas, concepts and change can come from passionate citizens. LE is bound to improve through the hard work of others. We may not always agree with advocates such as Jim and Candy but we cannot ignore their sacrifice and their ideas. Jim and Candy were just citizens that wanted to make a difference. Can you imagine what our profession could do if we all had that dedication?