LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Police pursuits are happening more often on Southern California freeways and they’re getting more dangerous.
Police pursuits are happening more often on Southern California freeways and they’re getting more dangerous. (CBSLA)
According to an analysis from the Southern California News Group, 46 people died as a result of pursuits in 2020 — the highest number of deaths since 2006.
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“It’s just not fair,” Jacob Dominguez, a victim, said.
Jacob was in a vehicle with his mother and stepfather, Gracie and Edward Contreras, in October of 2019 when police said a driver suspected of carjacking a woman with a knife ran a red light and slammed into their car.
The family’s vehicle was left mangled and flipped upside down.
Jacob, who was 13 at the time, was one of two survivors of the crash. The other survivor was the driver being pursued by West Covina Police Department officers.
“I had a pelvic fracture, a neck fracture, both of my legs were broken and a jaw fracture,” Jacob said.
Jacob is still undergoing physical therapy and cannot run or play sports.
Family members have since filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging the car jacking suspect and the vehicle he was in could have been found later by police.
Jacob Dominguez was in a vehicle with his mother and stepfather, Gracie and Edward Contreras, in October of 2019 when police said a driver suspected of carjacking a woman with a knife ran a red light and slammed into their car. (CBSLA)
“They’re trying to stop a car, you know, that had a tracking device,” attorney Jacob Emrani said. “They had a way to find this car.”
“Yes, I lost my brother, but I’ve always thought that these car chases have been, you know, you just never think that it’s going to happen to you,” Linda Quinonez, Edward Contreras’ sister, said.
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California Highway Patrol Officer Chris Baldonado said the department saw a 77% increase in pursuits in the first three months of 2021 compared to the first three months of 2020.
“That’s a million dollar question,” he said. “If you can predict exactly why these people are fleeing law enforcement personnel, we’d definitely see a decrease.”
Under state law, officers have to weight the danger a pursuit suspect poses to the public against the danger the pursuit could pose.
But each agency’s policy on when to chase varies. For the Los Angeles Police Department, officers are discouraged from pursing drivers for minor offenses. But CHP allows officers to use their discretion.
“We don’t know the exact circumstances of why this person’s fleeing,” Baldonado said. “We don’t know if there’s an innocent victim in the vehicle that was carjacked, right? So each situation’s different. We have to treat it as such where we [can] be prepared for anything.”
And while Candy Priano, who lost her 15-year-old daughter Kristie as a result of a 2002 pursuit, said she does not fault law enforcement for making stops, she believes there needs to be more standardization.
“What I think is missing, really, are well defined policies that must be followed, and in the state of California we do have that law still where officers, and law enforcement I should say, is not held accountable even when their officers fail to follow their pursuit policy,” she said.
Priano has sine started PursuitSAFETY, a nonprofit organization that works with law enforcement agencies to reduce what they believe are avoidable pursuits.
She said with deaths reaching record numbers, laws about when to chase need to be reevaluated.
“I look at it as how many deaths until it’s too many, and my answer is one,” she said.
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CBS Los Angeles reached out to the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, but neither responded to a request for comment on the issue.