After fatal crashes involving police pursuits, officers explain factors that may start a chase

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NEW HAVEN -- Engaging police in a chase is a misdemeanor offense. So New Haven Officer David Hartman, who serves as the department's public information officer, says that there's a question police often have to ask themselves if a pursuit ensues: "Is it more likely that greater harm will come if the person, who they are pursuing, gets away?"

Last week's East Haven police pursuit, which ended minutes before a 4-year-old was killed in the crash in neighboring Branford, has shed the spotlight on chases and how police departments decide when to engage and for how long, especially since the dash cam video was released.

Current state statue dictates that when deciding whether to initiate a pursuit, the police officer shall take the following factors into consideration:

  • Road, weather and environmental conditions
  • Population density and vehicular and pedestrian traffic
  • Whether the identity of the occupants is known and if immediate apprehension is not necessary to protect the public, or if police officers and apprehension at a later time is feasible
  • The relative performance capabilities of the pursuit vehicle and the vehicle being pursued
  • The seriousness of the offense
  • The presence of other persons in the police vehicle

"There is the potential for the person being pursued to make an erratic move while driving and injure somebody," said Hartman, who noted he chased a car from New Haven to Hartford while on duty years ago.

In an urban setting, like New Haven, pursuits can be more dangerous because of increased traffic on roads and sidewalks. That's why police in cities often break off pursuits more quickly. Also, because the chance of capture at a later time is higher.

"We have the benefit of having 40, 50 officers in cars in the city of New Haven," said Hartman, who adds he understands if the public is frustrated.

"Where policing in general needs to be second guessed, especially by the public, is when the pursuit involves a situation that isn't that important," said Hartman, who used the example of a car running a red light.

Currently, engaging police in a pursuit is only a misdemeanor offense. State Rep. Stephen Dargan (D-West Haven), who is a co-chairman of the Legislature's Public Safety and Security Committee,  says given the increasing in frequency of pursuits, it may be time to review the legislation.

East Haven Police released dash cam video from the high speed chase along I-95 north between East Haven and Branford, which came from the pursuing officer's cruiser. It showed that the chase was broken off over a mile before the eventual accident, which killed a 4-year-old Jai'Rus Jeremiah Little, of Hamden.

On Monday, police announced that another recent police chase ended in death. Danbury Police Officer Jamie Hodge was on duty last Thursday when he noticed a stolen vehicle drive by. He hopped in his personal car and chased it, and the stolen vehicle eventually crashed and flipped over several times. Passenger Tiffany Fitzgerald, 26, of Danbury, died in the crash.

In the past month there have also been police chases that resulted in crashes -- albeit without fatalities -- on I-95 in Milford; after a robberies at Subway and Dunkin' Donuts in Farmington; and following a carjacking and stabbing in Thompson. Also, on October 30, a victim in a car hit by a vehicle being chased by police in Norwich died.