CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland police on Thursday unveiled a vehicle pursuit policy that includes barring officers from driving after a fleeing suspect unless the suspect is accused of committing a violent felony or driving intoxicated.
Among the changes are rules that prohibit officers from deciding for themselves to join a chase and limits the number of trailing police cruisers to two — except in special circumstances, said Chief Calvin Williams.
Additionally, a sole supervisor — in most cases the immediate supervisor of the officer who initiates a pursuit — will assume all responsibilities of a chase, and officers ordered to terminate a pursuit must turn around and travel away from a fleeing suspect, according to the order.
Williams said revising the policy was not a reaction to the full-tilt pursuit on Nov. 29, 2012 in which more than 60 police cruisers chased after driver Timothy Russell and passenger Malissa Williams.
The chase began downtown near the Justice Center when officers reported hearing a gun fired from Russell’s passing 1979 Chevy Malibu.
The pursuit ended when officers cornered the Malibu in East Cleveland and let loose 137 rounds. Autopsies show Russell was shot 23 times, and Williams 24. Police said they opened fire because Williams tried to ram officers with his car.
Last year, the division changed its use-of-force policy to bar officers from shooting at or from a moving vehicle.
Chief Williams said the deadly chase “has a place” in the new police order, but that the process of revising the pursuit policy began months before Russell and Williams were killed.
“If the community can take one thing from this, they should take that the Cleveland Division of Police is committed to making sure we deliver the best possible service to them,” Williams said. “And our officers can be assured that we will do that in the safest possible way for them.”
City Councilman Zack Reed questioned whether the updated policy will do anything to keep officers from repeating the 2012 incident. More than 75 officers were found to have violated procedure during that chase.
“We have to make sure these people understand if they don’t follow a policy there will be serious consequences,” Reed said, suggesting the division intensify its pursuit training to ensure the new order is followed.
Williams said the division, since 2012, has undergone more frequent and better pursuit training.
“We’ve taken [our training] up 10 levels since then to ensure we don’t have the issue that arose November 29,” Williams said.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine – who called the 2012 chase a “systemic failure” – welcomed the policy changes.
“It sounds to me like they are moving in the right direction,” DeWine said. “I think the key is always in the training and a command in control. That obviously has to go along with the policy.”
Police union president Jeff Follmer fears the new policy will be an impediment.
“We still have to do police work and we still have to make split decisions,” Follmer said. “We still need to do our job to apprehend [suspects] and put them in jail. We can’t live in a city where there is a no-chase policy. Are we going in that direction? I don’t know.”