LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

New Louisville Metro Police policy restricts high-speed pursuits


Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad announced Wednesday that his department was revising its pursuit policy to reduce the risk from collisions in car chases that have killed eight people and injured at least 77 since 2007.

Conrad said the new policy will mandate that police can only chase suspects if they are being sought for a violent felony. Previously police could chase suspects by car for any felony, whether violent or not.

"In my opinion, the costs just do not justify the risks," Conrad said. "That does not mean we will ignore criminal behavior."

Louisville police have been involved in numerous dramatic, high-speed chases that sometimes have seen suspects careening through neighborhoods and flying down interstates with patrol cars in hot pursuit. Some chases have crossed state and county lines, ending only after suspects crashed into buildings or rammed other cars.

Some chases ended in community tragedies, such as on July 25, 2008 when the driver of a Grand Am, Kenielle Finch, sped away after being stopped by police, flew through an intersection at Floyd and Warnock streets and struck and killed two children crossing the street after swim lessons.

The latest death was on Oct. 23, when police have said Stephanie Melson, 31, was killed when Joseph Johnson, 63, ran a stop sign at 39th and Kentucky streets and collided with her car while being chased. Police said Johnson, who received minor injuries, was fleeing a drug investigation.

Conrad said the new LMPD policy was not prompted by Melson's death but was something he first began thinking about changing when he considered applying for the police chief position in October 2011. At the time, he was serving as the police chief in Glendale, Ariz., which limited pursuits to violent felonies.

While conducting research before applying, he came across a news story about a pursuit in Louisville that ended in a death, although he said he could not remember the specific case.

Not counting the Johnson case, which is still under review, Conrad said Louisville police were involved in 283 pursuits between January 2007 and October 2012, and nearly half of those chases - 142 - resulted in collisions that caused seven deaths and 76 injuries.

As a result of the change police will have to be more "creative" in how they serve warrants on suspects to avoid chases, Conrad said. He said when suspects do flee, police will rely more on radio contact and helicopters to track suspects, and sometimes will have to let the suspects go - at least for the time being.

Under the old policy, officers were allowed to chase Johnson. But under the new policy, officers would not be allowed to chase suspects in cases similar to Johnson's because it did not involve a violent felony.

Kerry King, the father of Melson's two children, said Wednesday that he nevertheless thinks the department should end all pursuits.

"The public is still at risk," King said. "Somebody is going to die so they can catch a criminal. They should do away with them all together. They've got walkie talkies, helicopters. You can follow them like they did O.J. Simpson, until they run out of gas. Then get them."

Conrad, however, said police can't always get a helicopter on the scene in time.

Under the new policy, officers will still weigh whether the suspect is worth apprehending or whether a pursuit is too risky, he said. Conrad said all pursuits will be reviewed, and the new policy standardizes that review procedure.

Police officers were told about the change in a memo Tuesday, and the policy will officially take effect Dec. 7.

Dave Mutchler, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he and other officers have conflicted feelings about the new policy.

"When you're dealing with police officers, it's in our blood to go out and get the bad guys," he said. "It's very, very hard to be told you can't do that or there's a severe limitation on that. ... At the same time, there's no officer that wouldn't have an issue if a member of their family was killed because we wanted to catch a stolen Honda."

Mutchler worries there will be an initial increase in the number of fleeing suspects as news about the change hits the streets. He is hopeful the word on the street will eventually convey another message - that those who flee will likely be caught later, and the penalties for evading aren't worth the temporary reprieve.

He's also confident the officers on the beat will adapt to the new policy.

Stephen Mitchell, a regional program manager for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, said his organization doesn't recommend a specific policy or set of best practices, but police departments across the nation are tightening their pursuit policies.

"For the mainstream agencies, violent felonies seems to be the threshhold," he said.

The change could affect neighboring police departments, who often chase suspected criminals through multiple jurisdictions. Conrad said if a neighboring police department chases a suspect into Louisville, LMPD officers cannot join the pursuit unless it meets the violent felony criteria.

Louisville police would be able to provide assistance, such as setting up a roadblock at an intersection or assisting at the end of a chase, Conrad said.

Maj. Chuck Adams, spokesman for the Clark County, Ind., Sheriff's Office, said his department has also tightened its pursuit policy over the years, but not as much as in Louisville. LPMD officers have helped Clark County in the past when pursuits passed through Jefferson County.

"I think it will hinder our ability to catch them, of course," Adams said.

But he said that once a pursuit starts, suspected criminals start becoming "reckless," and if a fleeing suspect swerves to hit a police car, he has just committed a violent felony.

"I think it might escalate to where they could join us," Adams said.