LARGO – Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced March 17 an agency-wide change to the pursuit policy.
During a news conference, the sheriff explained the revised policy is “first and foremost” intended to mitigate the risk for officer safety; as well as public safety.
“Furthermore, the policy is intended to provide deputies bookends to do their work, allow them to use their judgment and exercise good discretion,” Gualtieri said.
The main revisions to the policy include the following:
A sworn member may engage in a vehicle pursuit only when:
• It is necessary to apprehend a person because he or she committed a crime and, by their criminal conduct, the suspect constitutes an imminent and/ or continuous threat to the safety of any person if not apprehended.
Per the policy, the crime or criminal conduct constitutes a forcible felony, except unarmed burglary or burglary where the sole underlying crime is a property crime; arson that resulted only in property damage; aggravated assault, unless the aggravated assault involved the use of a firearm or other weapon.
• or, it is necessary to apprehend a driver of a vehicle because he or she by their extremely dangerous driving poses an imminent threat of great bodily harm to any person if not immediately stopped and apprehended.
In the previous policy, what met the threshold of a pursuit included:
A sworn member could engage in a vehicle pursuit only when:
• There was reasonable suspicion the violator posed an imminent threat and or continuous threat. The threat had to be attributed to either suspected criminal conduct or ongoing aggressive and/or reckless driving.
The revision of the pursuit policy began about a year ago and took into consideration input from members across the agency to develop a solid and workable policy. Gualtieri initiated the plans to revise the policy and set a new tone as it relates to pursuits – when the time frame between 2011 and 2012 showed an increase in pursuits and reflected some instance of non- compliance with the pursuit policy at the time. Since the changes began to be instituted, the sheriff cited a 54 percent drop in pursuits between 2012 and 2013; and considerable modification to the behavior for engagement in a pursuit.