Fairfax Co. police roll out car-chase guidelines; some supervisors skeptical

WASHINGTON — Fairfax County, Virginia, police have introduced guidelines that spell out when officers should begin, continue or end a high-speed chase.

But some members of the county’s Board of Supervisors are concerned that the guidelines might not go far enough toward ensuring public safety.

Appearing Tuesday before the board’s Public Safety Committee, police Chief Edwin Roessler said that officers and supervisors must be sure three guidelines are met before officers pursue any suspect in a fleeing vehicle.

  1. The officer has reasonable, articulable suspicion that a driver and/or passengers have committed, have attempted to commit, are committing, or have threatened to use violence to commit a violent felony against a person; other criminal offense; or a traffic infraction.
  2. The driver refuses to stop when given the signal to do so.
  3. The need for immediate apprehension outweighs the danger created by the pursuit to the public, officers and offender, including passengers.

“Preservation of all human life is paramount. We’ve moved that up to the front of the page to make it very clear that human life is the key factor in making a decision,” Roessler told the committee.

Roessler told supervisors there were 149 high-speed chases by Fairfax County police officers in 2017, 134 in 2016, and 118 in 2015. He attributed the rise in police chases to an increase in the number of vehicles on county roads.

Some supervisors questioned whether the guidelines provide officers with enough specifics.

“I’m still concerned that the policy is vague,” said Supervisor John Cook, chairman of the Public Safety Committee. “… The first paragraph is anything because it’s violent crime or criminal offense or traffic infraction,” he said.

Cook described the policy’s third component as “kind of squishy.”

Roessler assured supervisors that the policy embodies best practices for police chases and said the policy includes on-track training for officers with refresher training every 36 months.

“It really comes down to how is it going to be trained, because to me this is really, really vague,” said Supervisor Pat Herrity.

Police Chief Roessler said that officers and supervisors need a high level of justification to pursue fleeing vehicles in the county, where roadways are sometimes highly congested. Roessler also said that officers should cancel any high-speed chase if they are needed to provide any emergency medical aid.

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