Glynn County police officers will no longer chase suspects who flee when they are being pulled over for only traffic violations, an updated policy for the department dictates.
The policy, updated via a directive from interim chief O’Neal Jackson on Jan. 9, is part of a growing trend among law enforcement agencies, which top brass say are aimed at protecting the public, the officers, and the suspects.
“Pursuits shall not be initiated for traffic infractions only,” the update to Glynn County Police Department policy 307 says. “In any event, pursuits shall not continue past the point when the danger to the public or law enforcement personnel outweighs the need to immediately apprehend the suspect.”
It’s about mitigating risks, Jackson said.
“The risk to the public is great,” he said Tuesday of high speed pursuits. “Most cases don’t end with the bad guy pulling over and saying, ‘I’m giving up.’ … The end goal is to protect the citizens, protect the officers, protect the general public.”
National Highway Transportation Safety data show that there were 455 reported deaths tied to police pursuits in 2020.
Last week in Savannah, Chatham County officers abandoned a chase for a traffic infraction as per their no-chase policy. Georgia State Patrol picked up the chase and eventually performed a PIT maneuver to stop the vehicle. The subsequent crash ended in the death of the driver.
Locally, in February 2022, Camden County deputies were pursuing a motorcycle that had been clocked speeding in excess of 100 mph on Interstate 95. The chase reached speeds of 135 mph and ultimately ended in the driver’s death after a crash.
The city of Atlanta updated its policy similarly in 2022, It then added a few caveats later to allow for limited instances when pursuit is justified.
People opposed to the policies believe they let too many criminals get away. Opponents say not chasing someone who runs means police aren’t pursuing someone who clearly has something to hide.
“There will be instances when we can’t chase individuals,” Jackson said. “But is a case of beer being stolen from a gas station worth someone losing their life over? No.”
The policy update does not mean, however, that pursuits are a thing of the past altogether at the Glynn County Police Department. The policy lists four instances in which pursuit of a suspect fleeing in a vehicle is appropriate. They are:
• When officers believe someone in the vehicle has “committed or attempted to commit a felony using physical force or the threat of physical force” against someone.
• When officers believe an individual has committed a burglary.
• When officers believe someone has illegally entered an automobile, but not when someone only attempted to enter it.
• When officers believe someone has “left the scene of a traffic crash involving death or serious bodily injury.”
The four caveats in the policy leave the door open for a chase when officers deem it necessary, Jackson said, while limiting the instances of dangerous high speed pursuits in populated areas.
“This still leaves the officer and supervisor the availability to make a decision, use discretion,” he said.
No-chase policies are becoming more common in law enforcement. Jackson said it’s a sign of police becoming more professionalized.
The Brunswick Police Department has a similar limited-chase directive.
“High-speed pursuits (more than 10 mph over the speed limit) will not be authorized for situations in which the only offense committed by the driver is a misdemeanor or a misdemeanor traffic offense or a non-violent felony,” BPD policy 6-6-9 says of authorization for pursuits.
A BPD supervisor may authorize a pursuit for a misdemeanor or non-violent felony, but both the supervisor and the officer requesting pursuit must provide justification.
Assistant Brunswick Police Chief Angela Smith echoed Jackson’s sentiments on the matter.
“You have to think about the danger for everyone, our officers, the public and the suspects,” Smith said.
The Brunswick policy also dictates that although pursuits are generally authorized for felony offenses, if the felony is minor and the road and traffic conditions are dangerous, a supervisor can terminate a felony pursuit at any time. If the proper conditions are not met, Brunswick police officers are not to initiate a chase and can be disciplined if they initiate an unjustified chase.
Drunk drivers do not justify a chase, the BPD policy says.
There is no mention of DUI in the updated county policy, but Jackson said at a certain point, a driver passes the point of no-chase and can prompt a pursuit.
“It’s a really delicate balance,” Jackson said. “The officer behind that driver will have to articulate that the driver is a grave risk to the public. If he’s bouncing from guardrail to guardrail, we need to get that vehicle stopped.”
The Glynn County Sheriff’s Office pursuit policy puts the decision to chase in the hands of the individual deputy “based on the totality of circumstances.”
“In deciding to initiate and/or continue a motor vehicle pursuit, it is the responsibility of every deputy involved to evaluate the potential risks to the public, occupants of the pursued vehicle and the deputy,” the policy says.
Sheriff Neal Jump said Tuesday that by not pursuing someone attempting to flee, it could encourage more people to do the same. His deputies don’t plan to let someone run away from them.
“You don’t know if there’s a felony in the car or not,” he said. “I’m not willing to let our streets be taken over by thugs.”
The sheriff’s office policy says a chase is justified when a deputy knows a violent felony has occurred, when a vehicle is seen endangering the general public, or when the vehicle has been used as a weapon to commit a violent crime.
Jump said his deputies, six of which are on patrol in marked vehicles, are highly trained and have the best interest of the public in mind. That includes keeping them safe during a high-speed chase.
“I believe in taking care of the citizens of Glynn County,” Jump said.
Jackson wants to do the same. He believes that by using other methods like rolling roadblocks, for example, to stop someone fleeing officers, Glynn County police can be successful in apprehension without creating a more dangerous situation.
“In the end it will save lives and it will prevent serious injuries,” he said. “Part of our job is to not only enforce (the law) but to protect citizens, and that’s what this is going to do.”