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Richardson: Mayor needs to make sure Mesa is protected from wild, high-speed chases

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Bill Richardson

If I was Mesa Mayor John Giles, after hearing about the wild high-speed chase of a traffic violator by Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers into a crowded part of Tempe and the Arizona State University campus on Jan. 24, I’d have been on the phone with City Manager Chris Brady and Police Chief Ramon Batista asking what plans and procedures does Mesa have to prevent this kind of craziness and endangerment from happening in Mesa?

Mesa is crisscrossed and surrounded by state highways patrolled by DPS.

According to news reports, a DPS sergeant attempted to stop a driver for a traffic violation 60 miles west of Tempe. The police chase went into Tempe on Rural Road, where ASU and student housing intersect, and after a failed attempt by DPS to block the driver in with two unmarked cars, and without the apparent assistance from Tempe and ASU police, the driver sped south at an extremely high rate of speed colliding head-on with an oncoming car. The chase and crash were broadcast live.

A report by ABC 15’s Dave Biscobing raised serious questions about state troopers violating their own pursuit policy. A DPS spokesman was quick to point the driver troopers were chasing for a traffic violation had a criminal record and didn’t like the government. Not liking the government isn’t a crime and right now I’d bet 99 percent of Americans, especially in Arizona, don’t like the government. https://www.abc15.com/news/region-phoenix-metro/central-phoenix/pursuit-vehicle-crashes-into-another-in-tempe

This latest high-speed chase is eerily reminiscent of the 2017 high-speed chase by the off-duty DPS deputy director who initiated a high-speed chase of a suspected stolen truck on city streets in Gilbert and Chandler and onto the crowded freeways to Camp Verde before the truck he was chasing crashed and the driver was killed. The deputy director was in his own personal truck and refused to back off when marked units and a police helicopter became involved.

The dead man’s family is now suing DPS for $4 million. http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/arizona-troopers-in-fatal-pursuit-on-interstate-17-near-camp-verde-acted-reasonably-report-finds-9402571

In both cases, police knew who the driver was during the pursuits and before the accidents.

Has “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” replaced the longtime DPS motto of “Courteous Vigilance?”

I remember the days when Arizona Highway Patrol officers were generally the most professional, coolest and calmest officers at any crisis.

I guess DPS figures it’s the state police now and they can do what they want wherever they want, but where do cities draw the line when the behavior of an outside police agency endangers the citizenry?

Questions about DPS’s coordination with Tempe and ASU police departments have yet to be answered as well as questions about potential policy violations by troopers.

One police chief I’m aware of flat out told DPS not to chase cars into his city.

Hopefully, Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell and ASU President Michael Crow will conduct their own investigations to determine what could have been done better and what they need to demand from Gov. Doug Ducey to minimize the danger to Tempe residents and ASU students, staff and faculty in the future.

All Valley cities can learn from what happened on the streets of Tempe. Every police agency in Maricopa County has highly restrictive pursuit policies and strict supervision designed to protect the public and officers. DPS shouldn’t be any different. Over 5,000 innocent bystanders and passengers were killed as a result of police pursuits between 1979 and 2013. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/07/30/police-pursuits-fatal-injuries/30187827/

“From 1996 to 2015, an average of 355 persons (about one per day) were killed annually in pursuit-related crashes.” https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5906

Mayor Giles needs to make sure Mesa residents and visitors are protected from incidents like the one that happened yesterday in Tempe.

– Bill Richardson is a retired Mesa police detective.

2 COMMENTS

  1. So, are you advocating for cities to restrict DPS from chases in particular cities? What if the perp is not known, in a stolen car, and aware that DPS can’t chase him through Mesa, or Tempe? Wouldn’t that policy make those cities a target for criminals in a chase, knowing that they are home free if they make it to Tempe. I would rather put my trust in the DPS officers to make the correct choice, even if this time it looks like they didn’t.

  2. Lauren,
    Long ago city police departments quit chasing stolen cars and other non-violent felonies. Unless there is immediate danger to the community, and that doesn’t include the police escalating it to immediate danger like in the case in Tempe and the non-pursuit of a stolen car by DPS #2, police say goodbye. There’s plenty pf criminals to catch. I the policies about not chasing most cars have been around since the 80’s and it doesn’t appear to encourage running from the police. It’s interesting to me that Avondale and Buckeye PD’s refused to get involved in the DPS chase. After the fiasco this week and a year ago with #2, I’d be surprised if many police and sheriff’s departments jump into a DPS chase.

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