A proposed D.C. Council bill would prohibit police chases in motor vehicles.
A new bill in the D.C. Council would prohibit police from engaging in most car chases, and would ban tactics that critics say led to the death of two men in recent years.
The bill introduced this week by Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George and four other lawmakers would broadly prohibit officers from chasing suspects unless they have committed a crime of violence, the pursuit is necessary to prevent death or serious injury, and the chase is unlikely to cause the death or injury of a bystander.
The bill would also prohibit police from performing vehicle maneuvers such as boxing in another car or using multiple police vehicles to slow down a suspected vehicle, deflating another car's tires using spikes or tack strips, and discharging a firearm at or from a moving vehicle.
"Police chases are inherently dangerous for officers, suspects, and bystanders, and they should only be used when absolutely necessary," Lewis George said in a statement. "An officer's decision of whether to speed after someone should always prioritize safety and safeguard human life."
The measure draws from the D.C. Police Reform Commission, which recently unveiled 90 recommendations for changes to policing and police tactics — including a ban on police chases. The commission wrote that "because of the serious danger that vehicle pursuits pose, the police departments... should strictly limit them to situations involving fleeing suspects who pose an immediate risk of killing or injuring another person."
It also cited the deaths of two D.C. men — Karon Hylton-Brown in 2020 and Jeffrey Price in 2018 — during police chases as evidence of why such a prohibition is necessary. Hylton-Brown, who was riding a scooter and being pursued by police, died after he was hit by a driver. Price, who was on a motorcycle, was killed when a police officer used his car to block an intersection, causing a fatal collision.
Jay Brown, Price's uncle, tells DCist/WAMU that he remains skeptical that the bill would have prevented his nephew's death. "It's a step in the right direction for future cases," he said. "But if it was in place when my nephew was living... I don't think it would have mattered because the police broke the rules that were in place at that time."
David Schurtz, a lawyer for Price's family, provided DCist/WAMU with the unredacted sections of the existing police orders that say officers engaged in a pursuit must stop when approaching stop lights and signal before going through an intersection. In addition, police also must follow D.C. law, which states that emergency vehicles may pass stop signs or lights, but only after slowing down for safety.
Gregg Pemberton, chairman of the D.C. Police Union, said the provisions in the bill are unnecessary because they already exist in general orders or municipal regulations.
"This appears to be yet another attempt by the Council to rehash existing law in an effort to get on the 'police reform' bandwagon. What they should be doing is crediting MPD for having the foresight to develop these policies years ago. MPD is an incredibly progressive department that has been successfully addressing police reform for decades. Unfortunately, that fact doesn't help councilmembers who want to show they are capitulating to anti-police rhetoric," Pemberton said.
The existing general orders on vehicle pursuits say officers "shall exercise caution and operate their vehicle in a safe manner...[and] continually evaluate and assess the actual conditions of the pursuit in deciding whether to continue or discontinue." The law also says that officers must have reasonable and/or probable cause, or reason to believe a crime has been committed beyond just speculation — but not amounting to a "cause for necessary arrest."
Still, the Police Reform Commission said in its recommendation that a law should be passed to clarify terms and "reinforce MPD policy." If passed, the bill would be in line with practices already implemented in Baltimore and New Orleans. A public hearing on the measure is scheduled for next month.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.