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Police Must Weigh Risks Of Chasing Criminals Into D.C.

By Aaron Kraut

Thursday - 5/2/2013, 10:25am  ET

Western Avenue, the D.C.-Maryland border in Chevy Chase. Flickr photo via Payton Chung

In a police chase that crosses into Washington D.C., such as the one that followed the Cartier smash-and-grab on Tuesday, Montgomery County Police must carefully weigh the seriousness of the crime against the legality and risk of entering another jurisdiction.

Some worry that makes areas near the Maryland-D.C. line vulnerable to criminals who know they may not be pursued into the District. The robbery on Chevy Chase’s ritzy stretch of high-end stores, nicknamed the Rodeo Drive of the East Coast, follows the January robbery at the Jimmy Choo store a few doors down.

About 40 minutes after the Cartier robbery, as police interviewed employees and reporters gathered on the sidewalk, a man reportedly shoplifted from the Gap store across the street before fleeing to the Friendship Heights Metro station on the Western Avenue border.

Montgomery County Police’s pursuit of the Cartier suspects ended a little more than two miles into D.C., according to scanner traffic.

After reportedly evading a D.C. police officer in Southeast D.C., the suspects remain at large.

Unless the crime is violent, Montgomery County Police spokesperson and Capt. Paul Starks said officers won’t cross into D.C. Fresh pursuits are dangerous and often end in accidents. Liability and risk are concerns.

“We’re going into another jurisdiction. We’re leaving the state of Maryland. You know our butts are hanging out,” Starks said. “We’re not getting involved in that.”

The Chevy Chase Cartier store was robbed on Tuesday, starting a police pursuit of a group of suspects into D.C.At 11:08 a.m. on Tuesday, police got a call for a robbery that had just occurred. Police say a group of masked and gloved men gained entry to the store, tussled with a security guard and “took control” of the store and its four employees without the use of weapons, but through “their presence.”

Within a minute, they smashed a glass case in the back of the store and stole an unspecified amount of merchandise. Starks said Police don’t divulge the value of stolen merchandise in these cases.

According to scanner traffic after the robbery, the suspects took 12 watches worth about $150,000.

The suspects entered a late-model black Dodge Charger and went north on Wisconsin Avenue, followed by at least one Montgomery County Police officer. The suspects then crossed over to southbound Connecticut Avenue, apparently via Bradley Lane, before an officer in pursuit observed the car going in the wrong direction along Chevy Chase Circle, which sits on the D.C. line.

The officer told dispatch when he passed Ingomar Street NW, recorded going approximately 55 miles per hour past Huntington Street NW and soon said he was passing the Van Ness Metro station. He last observed the Dodge Charger turning left onto Porter Street, near the Cleveland Park Metro station, and stopped the pursuit.

About 40 minutes later, a D.C. police officer pursuing the Dodge Charger in Southeast lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a parked truck.

“The question to pursue or not is based on a variety of factors such as the seriousness of the crime, traffic and weather conditions, and most importantly, the risk to the officer and the public in general,” Montgomery County Police 2nd District Commander Capt. David Falcinelli said. “Pursuits are always closely monitored and constantly assessed until the pursuit ends or a decision is made to terminate.”

A 2010 study from the FBI looked at police pursuits nationwide in a four-year period in the 90′s. On average, one law enforcement officer was killed every 11 weeks in a pursuit and one out of every 100 high-speed pursuits resulted in a fatality. Innocent third parties made up 42 percent of persons killed or injured.

The Chevy Chase Cartier storeMost states, including Maryland and D.C., allow officers from other states to enter in fresh pursuit of a person “on the ground that he/she is believed to have committed a felony” in the pursuing officer’s State.

Notably, the Virginia Attorney General’s office has interpreted “committed” to mean that an officer need only have reasonable grounds or probable cause to suspect, rather than actual knowledge that a felony has been committed.

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