Tennessee HB 2907
PursuitSAFETY worked with the Tennessee Association for Justice (TAJ) and blocked a measure that was picking up traction: HB 2907. We opposed this measure for the express purpose to prevent death of and injury to police officers and innocent bystanders. The measure would have weakened the supervisory component when officers conducted police chases.
Jim Bilbo, on behalf of the TAJ, wrote to PursuitSAFETY: "We believe your communication to the House Judiciary Committee members was helpful in this development."
HOUSE BILL 2907
Letter from the PursuitSAFETY Legislative Committee
April 6, 2010
Sent via email to the Tennessee House Judiciary Committee Representative Eddie Bass
Re: Oppose HB 2907 slated for a hearing on Wednesday, April 7
Voices Insisting on PursuitSAFETY opposes House Bill 2907 for the express purpose of public safety and to prevent death of and injury to police officers and innocent bystanders. We respectfully ask members of this Subcommittee to oppose this measure.
PursuitSAFETY is a national nonprofit organization. We assist families of innocent bystanders by helping injured victims and bereaved families with the support they need. On average, police chases now kill at least three innocent bystanders every week in the United States. We seek improved officer pursuit training and supervision as well as pursuit policies that strike an appropriate balance between (a) apprehending drivers who flee and (b) ensuring public safety to prevent police officers and innocent bystanders from being needlessly killed or maimed as a result of unnecessary police chases.
We oppose HB 2907 because it proposes a watered down legal standard for police pursuits. It’s not just a bad idea. At this moment, there is no compelling reason even to raise the issue.
In contrast, there is ample evidence that more innocent persons are being killed or suffering serious injuries at the end of poorly executed or ill-advised police pursuits. Without proper supervision, it is a certainty that poorly executed or ill-advised police pursuits will increase and so will deaths of innocent bystanders and police officers.
The current legal standard is negligence. It’s the standard imposed when you or I operate a motor vehicle. The touchstone is "reasonableness," such as, driving reasonably, using good judgment, obeying the laws, etc.
In police pursuits, officers are expected to use reasonable judgment, using their training and skill, and applying it in context. This means, taking account of factors such as speed and area of the pursuit, weather and road conditions, the presence or absence of pedestrians and other traffic, alternative methods of apprehension, applicable police regulations, and the danger posed to the public.
PursuitSAFETY blames the drivers who flee. Unfortunately, fleeing drivers do not care about my family's safety--or your family's safety--so the burden to protect the innocent, by necessity, falls on the police.
A clue as to why there presently is a push in Tennessee to water down legal standards regarding pursuits is the similarly misguided second clause inserted into the bill. It would prohibit police supervisors from disciplining officers under their command who were involved in a pursuit if the pursuit complied with the established policy of the department.
The rationale for this peculiar and poorly drafted provision is that officers don’t want to be second-guessed by their supervisors. Rather, they would have the legislature second-guess the police supervisors, putting them in a one-size-fits-all straightjacket. Such a rule would leave plenty of room for an officer exercising bad judgment, which merits discipline, but might not be specifically written into a department’s pursuit policy. It's a legislative distribution of power favoring officers at their supervisors’ expense.
Law enforcement underlings may not like being held accountable. But that’s the way it is in a free society. And it may be that both officers and supervisors sometimes have to make hard choices about whether to cut off a pursuit. But that’s because, in a free society, innocent bystanders have worth. Citizens are not rolling roadblocks for authority.
As it is, a standard of reasonableness ensures the police officers will be held accountable for using their training and following their supervisor’s orders. Unreasonable chases will be deterred. And there will be pressure on law enforcement to refine capture tactics and techniques, and develop and use improved technology.
That’s a good pursuit. Leave current law alone.
Robert L. Bastian Jr., Legislative Chair