Editorial for 09 July: Police pursuits: Not so fast?

It may be difficult for the general public to appreciate how
quickly police officers have to make critically important decisions while on
the job.

Most of us, if we spend any time considering the subject at
all, find ourselves thankful that we aren’t placed in the same position.

In Monday’s paper, the Caymanian Compass published an
article reporting that the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service was found
“negligent” in the death of Bruce Lee Ebanks in 2008 at the end of a car chase.
It may seem strange to many of us that the individual running from police,
driving the vehicle at 80-plus miles an hour down West Bay Road was not solely
to blame. The chase ended with the vehicle crashing into a light pole, killing
two occupants. 

Grand Court Justice Alexander Henderson in the ruling
published Monday wrote: “[The driver] was doing so because a police car was
chasing him. Had the pursuit been terminated, it is more probable than not that
[the driver] would have slowed down to a normal speed so as to avoid attracting
further police attention. 

“The negligent failure to end the pursuit was one factor
which contributed to the accident.” 

We respect this and all decisions of the Grand Court in such
matters. Justice Henderson pointed out – correctly – that the officer involved
in the pursuit did not follow the RCIPS vehicle chase policy, which requires,
among other things, that a high-ranking supervisor be contacted right away and
remain in the loop on all decisions to continue or end the pursuit. That didn’t
happen in the February 2008 incident that ended with the death of Mr. Ebanks
and Sidney Myles, another passenger in the wrecked vehicle.

This led to a pursuit with speeds of up to 90 miles per hour
on narrow West Bay side streets during a chase that lasted more than six
minutes, according to court records.

That sounds dangerous to us, but we have the benefit of
hindsight some five years later. We are not the officer who had to make
on-the-spot decisions about what to do at the time.

The deaths of Mr. Myles and Mr. Ebanks in the February 2008
crash were certainly tragic. However, we can never truly know what the driver
in the fatal crash would have done if the officer did terminate the chase.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has repeatedly
refused to release its vehicle pursuit policy; perhaps this is one of the
reasons. If people know officers are supposed to back off when the chase hits
certain speeds, that could very well place members of the general public in
danger.

Moreover, in our view, it is most unlikely going forward
that we will scold the RCIPS for chasing the bad guys. After all, isn’t that
what the police are supposed to do?

 

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