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Deaths spur changes to police chase policy


CLEVELAND - A rash of deaths and injuries resulting from police chases has led the city to revise its policy on pursuing would-be fugitives.

So far this year, at least eight people have been killed or injured following chases in the city, a newspaper reported.

The accidents this year, which include the injury of an infant and the death of a 57-year-old woman while she was crossing a street on her way to see "The Lion King," have led Police Chief Michael McGrath to tighten the department`s policy.

Now, police are required to leave more space between their cruisers and suspect vehicles, call for police helicopters to help track a fleeing car during a chase and carefully consider pedestrian and vehicle traffic before deciding whether to pursue. Police are also no longer allowed to join a chase in a car without lights and sirens or ram suspects` vehicles unless deadly force is needed.

Critics of the new policy, including Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen`s Association, say the changes are the city`s way of reacting without taking any real action to help keep officers and residents safe.

The rule requiring officers to request air support from a police helicopter during car chases is moot, Loomis said. Officers already enlist the help of helicopters during pursuits, he said. Audio tapes of the pursuits reveal that officers repeatedly requested air support before at least one of the fatal crashes but were told the helicopter wasn`t available.

The police helicopter has run on limited hours since cuts to the police budget in 2004 and hasn`t been available in any of this year`s fatal crashes, Loomis said.

Instead, the city should give officers stop-strips that flatten suspects` tires, Loomis said. He said the few strips the city owns are not being used.

Police say the car-chase policy, like others in the department, is considered a "living document" which evolves in response to changes. The chase policy was last revised in January.

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