A few months ago the death of Boyd Day of Fillmore inspired me to do a story about chases. Day was killed when his car was struck at a south Provo intersection by a car fleeing from police.
At the time, many people were criticizing the police for chasing the car that hit Day, and I was hoping my story would answer the questions of car-chase critics.I interviewed officers from several law enforcement agencies about their policies on car chases. I became convinced that the policies, which are all similar, are appropriate.
However, a couple of weeks ago, as I listened to testimony in the preliminary hearing of Steven Edward Floyd, the Las Vegas youth charged with manslaughter in Day's death, my feelings changed. The testimony of the highway patrol trooper who chased Floyd convinced me that the policies need changing.
If ever there was a chase that should have been terminated, the one involving Floyd should have been.
Whether to pursue a fleeing suspect is at the discretion of each officer. In deciding whether to pursue, officers are supposed to consider the severity of the offense, the nature of the suspect, the time of day and the amount of traffic on the streets involved. Patrol supervisors monitor the chase on the radio and are supposed to terminate the chase if they determine the risks outweigh the need to pursue.
Decide for yourself if police should have been chasing Floyd.
According to the officer's testimony, the chase began in Santaquin, mainly because of the way Floyd looked at the officer when he was radared at 10 mph over the speed limit. The officer had no idea the car Floyd was driving was stolen. The chase occurred at about 6 p.m. and went through downtown Payson, Salem, Spanish Fork and near downtown Provo - running several stoplights along the way. Speeds in the chase exceeded 100 mph.
To me, the risks in this case obviously outweighed the need to apprehend Floyd. It's amazing Floyd made it to Provo before he struck someone.
I don't fault the officer who chased Floyd. I fault the policy and the supervisors. To me, supervisors need to exercise more authority and the policies need to be more specific.
All agencies need to adopt a policy adopted by Salt Lake police last month after a chase there killed an innocent man. Now, Salt Lake police don't pursue unless the suspect or the offense justify the use of deadly force.
Car chases are a tough call for police. If police began chasing the suspect there are usually only two possibilities: the suspect stops or he causes an accident - sometimes both. If police don't chase, then the incentive for more suspects to flee increases.
But I think people would rather have more suspects flee than have unsuspecting people like Boyd Day killed.
(Jim Rayburn, Springville, is a staff writer in the Deseret News' Utah County bureau.)