Expert: Independence officer acted recklessly in deadly chase - KCTV5

Expert: Independence officer acted recklessly in deadly chase

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INDEPENDENCE, MO (KCTV) -

When bad guys run, cops will often chase. If the pursuit reaches high speeds, public safety can be at risk, which is why every police department in the metro has a pursuit policy.

The idea of the policies is to protect innocent life while still catching criminals.

Since 2006 KCTV5 has been covering the controversial chase policy of the Independence Police Department. For the fourth time in seven years, a high-speed chase that started in Independence has taken a life.

An expert on police chases weighed in on Monday's deadly pursuit. He said the officer acted recklessly and the argument can be made that he broke department rules.

"It was always a matter of when it happens again, not if," said Cheryl Cooper.

Ever since a driver fleeing Independence police hit and killed her teenage son, Christopher, she has openly criticized the Independence Police Department.

"Nothing has changed in the last six years. It's the same as it ever was," she said.

Cooper said the police department's officers are too aggressive and too quick to chase traffic offenders and non-violent criminals.

"I don't know what it will take. If the slaughter of a 17-year-old boy in the middle of the street is not enough, then what is?" she asked.

Monday's high-speed chase marked the fourth fatal crash involving IPD since 2007, a startling statistic to more than just Cooper.

"For a small department, that's a lot of crashes," said professor Geoffrey Alpert, Ph.D.

Alpert teaches at the University of South Carolina. He's written books, testified before Congress and trained thousands of police officers on high-speed pursuits and offered some thoughts after reviewing IPD's dash cam video.

"He raises speeds over 100 during the chase," Alpert said. "The big question is, when would he slow down? He isn't going to slow down while he's being chased."

He said attempting to pull the suspect over for speeding was OK, but after a certain point the officer exercised poor judgment.

"It went on too long. It was almost futile because you could barely see the car from the video and for a while there was no traffic and then there was a lot of traffic," he said.

While in the heaviest traffic of the chase, the suspect almost crashes. Alpert said the pursuit should have terminated right then but, instead, it continues for another mile and a half.

With the officer still in pursuit, the suspect, never slowing down, barrels through a school zone at Rogers Elementary School.

"That's a no-no. That's one of the prohibitions that most policies have is that you don't go through school zones," Alpert said.

The Independence Police Department's pursuit policy does not specifically prohibit going through school zones, but it does state that "Pursuits for traffic violations or for misdemeanors will be terminated if they pose unnecessary risk to life."

Alpert said the IPD officer violated that part of the policy, chasing past Rogers Elementary during schools hours.

"This guy was not a terrorist, he was not a murderer. He was a bad guy and he was being real stupid for speeding like that, but the need to immediately apprehend was not great enough to raise the risk for kids," he said.

A minute later, as the chase enters a residential area, Alpert said the officer finally does the right thing.

"He terminated it. He stopped at the stop light. The question is, is that too little too late?" he asked.

It may have been too little too late because, a half mile away, the suspect crashed into another car, killing an innocent man and injuring two others. While the suspect now faces murder charges, Cooper said blame also rests with Independence police.

"I do believe that, yes. My heart breaks for the family. I have nothing but sorrow for them and their loss," she said when asked if she believes the police are callous when it comes to the loss of life during a police chase.

KCTV5's Stacey Cameron tried to ask the police department about the chase going through the school zone. Because the prosecutor filed criminal charges, police will no longer discuss the case.

Almost the entire chase takes place in Kansas City, MO, not Independence, MO, but the officer involved does not radio to notify the Kansas City, MO, Police Department until the chase ends. That is another apparent violation of the department's pursuit policy.

Some believe that if police don't chase for traffic offenses and misdemeanors, violators will run even more because they know they can get away. Alpert says that thought is just a myth. In every study where a city changed its chase policies and pulled back, crime did not increase and there was zero impact on the number of pursuits.

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