The Houston Police Department announced a revised version of its chase policy Thursday morning.
HPD Chief Troy Finner said last week that changes were coming to that policy after a sergeant’s mother was killed in a crash with two carjacking suspects who were running from police.
“The suspect disregarded safety for anybody, plowed into those vehicles,” Finner said of the Sept. 7 incident. “Let’s increase the penalty for people fleeing in vehicles. It’s dangerous.”
During the Thursday press conference, Finner said one of the policy changes includes officers being prohibited from starting a pursuit of suspects with only offenses including a Class C misdemeanor, a traffic or municipal warrant, or a non-violent misdemeanor warrant.
However, Finner said a supervisor would be able to authorize a pursuit where there is an ongoing investigation or if a suspect has no plates, plates from another vehicle, or stolen plates.
According to HPD, there have been 1,300 pursuits so far this year, what Finner called a roughly 26% increase from last year. On average, he said there are five pursuits per day, with each being over six minutes.
“In my opinion, that’s too many. We should not pursue every vehicle that flees from us. We don’t have to give up the search of the suspect when we terminate the pursuit,” Finner said. “That should continue.”
The department was also said to have added tactics to stop pursuits more quickly, but Finner said those would not be revealed.
Finner once again called for changes in the criminal justice system, asking lawmakers to look into additional adjustments.
“If you shot a gun into a crowd, what would the punishment be? We need the same damn punishment of people in vehicles,” he said last week.
The department has previously discussed what officers have to consider before engaging in vehicle pursuits with suspects who refuse to stop. Things like the direction of travel, risk of injury, and an officer’s experience are what are constantly being evaluated.
When it comes to how pursuits are initiated, HPD has previously said the decision depends on the ability of an officer, supervisor, or commander to continually assess the need to pursue versus the risk of injury involved in engaging in the pursuit.
Officials added that they’re constantly researching, testing, and evaluating new products, such as driving simulators, to prevent and de-escalate pursuits sooner.