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AUSTIN, Texas -- Austin police officers must evaluate immediate danger, consider whether a suspect is known and can be arrested later, and ask themselves "what would be gained from pursuing the suspect" before beginning often-dangerous foot chases, according to a new department policy that takes effect this month.
The issue of when - and how - such pursuits should happen had fueled debate about whether a fired sergeant acted appropriately when he shot and killed Kevin Alexander Brown last year.
The policy establishes criteria officers should evaluate before beginning a chase and how they should respond during a pursuit.
According to the policy, officers must gauge the risk to themselves, fellow officers, suspects and bystanders. The two-page policy says that officers should consider whether a suspect may be armed and the availability of backup officers, and it requires them to radio a description of the suspect and location of the chase to dispatchers.
It also says officers should consider ending a chase if the suspects' identities are known and if they are not thought to be an immediate threat.
"The purpose of this policy is to facilitate the safe apprehension of a suspect who flees on foot to reduce the risk of injury to the officer, suspect and public," the policy says.
The new guidelines come more than a year after the shooting death of Brown by former Sgt. Michael Olsen.
Police Chief Art Acevedo fired Olsen late last year, saying that Olsen used poor judgment and tactics in his actions leading up to the shooting.
For instance, Acevedo said, Olsen, who was investigating a report that Brown had a gun at a nightclub, did not communicate with other officers to develop a "measured and coordinated" response and left his partner during the foot chase, creating a potential cross-fire encounter in which the officers could have accidently shot each other. He also said Olsen did not wait for backup before approaching Brown, and he questioned whether Brown posed an immediate threat.
During an appeal hearing in which Olsen sought to regain his job, his attorney, Tom Stribling, challenged the lack of a foot-pursuit policy and questioned how Olsen could have been held responsible for certain actions that weren't addressed in department rules.
Stribling said Tuesday that he had read a copy of the policy but, "I can't really say how it is going to affect (officers) or how it is going to be applied."
Attorney Scott Ozmun, who is representing Brown's family in a civil lawsuit against the city and who heard testimony during Olsen's appeal hearing, said, "To the extent that Stribling and Olsen raised that as an issue of concern, it's important for the department to address."
Brown's death was the second involving an Austin police foot chase since 2004.
Officer Amy Donovan was killed when she was struck by her partner, who was driving a patrol car while she chased a fleeing drug suspect in East Austin. Officer Adrian Valdovino received a written reprimand for failing to operate his patrol car safely.
In another incident that did not involve a death, Officer Wayne Williamson fired at a home invasion suspect during a foot chase last year as the suspect ran toward a busy shopping center parking lot. Acevedo said in a disciplinary memo firing Williamson that Williamson did not see a weapon when he fired.
Assistant Police Chief David Carter, who is the department's chief of staff, said Acevedo wanted to develop a foot-chase policy soon after taking over the department last year.
"Anytime that you have something where you have a tactical consideration, where somebody, either a police officer or suspect, could be injured, the department needs to establish some kind of training and policy on the matter," Carter said.
Carter said officials appointed a committee to look at other departments that have such policies.
Sgt. Jim Beck, who was on the committee, said officials reviewed policies from places such as the San Diego and Denver police departments and the Los Angeles County sheriff's department. Beck said many departments surveyed still do not have such polices.
Wuthipong "Tank" Tantaksinanukij, vice president of the Austin Police Association, said he supports the creation of a new policy.
"If anything else, I look at it as protecting the officer," he said. "That way, we have a clear policy on issues of what we can and can't pursue on. It outlines their job description."
Foot-pursuit policy highlights
The Austin Police Department this month will require officers to follow this protocol for foot pursuits:
* Before beginning a foot pursuit, officers should consider whether a suspect is armed, the severity of the offense and the nature of the area, such as whether it is in a school zone or highway.
* Once a foot chase has begun, officers should notify dispatchers of the location, direction of the chase, description of the suspect and whether the suspect is armed.
* Officers must end a foot chase if they think the danger to officers or the public outweighs the necessity for immediate arrest of the suspect or if the suspect's identity is known and the person isn't an immediate threat.