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Atlanta police reinstates policy allowing suspect chases

January 10, 2021 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — A year after the practice was halted, Atlanta police have reinstated a controversial policy that allows officers to chase suspects, a decision that comes after the city saw one of its most violent years in decades.

But the revived policy comes with new restrictions.

The Police Executive Research Forum, contracted by the city to conduct a top-down review of Atlanta Police Department policies and training, provided guidance to command and training staff who crafted the revived policy, Police Department Interim Chief Rodney Bryant told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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He said the department has adopted safety measures not present in the old policy scrapped last January by former Chief Erika Shields, who decided the chases put innocent people at too great of a risk.

“The policy itself is much more restrictive than it has been in the past,” Bryant said. “After we added significant restrictions to it, we lifted the suspension.”

The new protocols allow officers to pursue only specific suspects, those who have committed certain felonies ranging from murder to involuntary manslaughter and who present an imminent threat of death or serious injury. A supervisor must approve a chase, and no more than three police cruisers can join.

Shields suspended the chases after a month that included three deaths following police pursuits. In one incident, fleeing suspects struck and killed two men who were caretakers for sick or disabled family members. At the time, Shields said she knew her decision would be unpopular and could drive up crime.

City Councilman Michael Julian Bond and his son were almost killed several years ago after their car was T-boned by a fleeing driver. Still, Bond said the chase policy needed to be reinstated.

“Hopefully that will deter some of the crime from happening,” he said. “If they know you’re not going to chase them, they’re going to come here and cut up.”

A 2017 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 351 people in the U.S. were killed in 2012 as a result of police chases. From 1996 to 2015, fatal crashes in police pursuits led to more than 7,000 deaths — an average of roughly one chase-related fatality per day.

Mark Hampton was on his way to a pharmacy to pick up medication for his disabled son when he was hit by two teens speeding through the city in a stolen SUV. His mother Deborah Hampton called it “terrible” that the Atlanta Police Department was reviving its chase policy.

She said the risk to innocent civilians far outweighs the reward of apprehending a lawbreaker.

“They’ll be caught eventually,” Hampton said. “It’s not worth the hurt and pain I go through every day.”