Texas Town Won't Release Chase Policy After Cop, Boy Killed

Almost three weeks after a small-town Texas officer and an 11-year-old boy died in a crash during a chase, the officer's department won't release its policy on high-speed pursuits.

Officials in Patton Village wouldn't share the department's policy with the Houston Chronicle, nor would several other small departments near Houston.

Sgt. Stacey Baumgartner was chasing a man on June 19 who was allegedly urinating in public. Baumgartner's vehicle was hit entering an intersection by an SUV carrying a family of seven. Authorities say a boy in the SUV was killed.

According to the Chronicle, 1,102 people have been killed in high-speed police chases in Texas since 1979. Nearly half of those people were not people accused of breaking the law, the newspaper reported.

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Friday faulted Baumgartner for disregarding a red light at the intersection and not slowing down.

But officials in Patton Village, about 35 miles northeast of downtown Houston, have declined to release the department's pursuit policy. Police Chief Leon Varot said he would not "discuss this at this point," and Mayor Leah Tarrant would only say that the department has a written policy and that Baumgartner was "totally compliant" with it.

Experts say police should carefully decide whether a suspect is dangerous enough to require a high-speed chase.

"If you're going to die in the line of duty, the odds are it's going to be in a traffic accident," said David Marcaurele, the chief deputy of the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office, which covers part of suburban Houston. "Pursuits are just very dangerous things."

Marcaurele said Fort Bend's policy discourages officers from chasing suspects on low-level traffic violations and requires supervisors to direct any pursuits. But he also declined to release the written policy.

The Houston Police Department did release its policy. The policy requires a supervisor to command officer actions in a chase; instructs a dispatcher to send a police helicopter if one is available; and forbids pursuing officers from driving down the wrong side of a freeway, bumping a vehicle to force it off the road, or shooting a gun to try to disable the vehicle.

Geoffrey Alpert, a law enforcement trainer at the University of South Carolina, said refusing to release chase policies is "counterproductive."

"We have not seen any agency that has an increase in chases when they publish their policies," Alpert said in an email.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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