Deadly, costly crashes lead HPD to consider pursuit policy changes

Always Investigating

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Honolulu Police Department (HPD) is looking at possible revisions to a longstanding vehicle-pursuit policy, this comes after two high-profile crashes that resulted in death and serious injury.

Crashes related to pursuits in recent years have been costly to life, property and taxpayers. KHON2 dove into years of data about Honolulu police chases and asked what needs to change?

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Kakaako 2019: Alins Sumang killed three pedestrians as a high-speed getaway from a police pursuit ended in a deadly crash. One victim’s family was awarded a $10 million settlement — the city’s highest ever — and several more cases are still pending.

“I think we’ve seen some examples of the devastation of some of these issues that come to light, especially when there’s loss of life,” said Shannon Alivado, chairwoman of the Honolulu Police Commission. “So not only is the commission worried about these types of incidents, but as taxpayers, we are all concerned about the costs that this has on the city and state.”

HPD’s pursuit policy allows officers to decide when the need to apprehend a suspect outweighs the risk of harm to people and property. If they start a chase, lights and sirens have to be on the whole time, and a pursuit must be declared by a call-in to dispatch, along with a slew of details. At that point, supervisors take over direction of the chase.

Always Investigating reviewed eight years of pursuit data and found more than 1 in 4 chases dating back to 2013 had violations by the officers at the wheel or their supervisors; the most frequent being failures to declare a chase, assess the risk or terminate it — and not switching on the lights and sirens.

As many as 1 in 4 chases ended in a crash or collision by the fleeing suspect in the worst recent year on record. In fact, suspects crash about as often as they stop in a chase: Around 13% end in an accident, while 14% in eventual compliance. For about one-third of the time, the officer calls it off; another third of the time, a supervisor terminates the chase.

The data showed that most of the time, pursuits are sparked by a stolen vehicle report or a traffic offense. Only 5% of the time are police chasing suspicious or wanted people. A chase in Waianae started with a warning to youth to leave a beach. A lawsuit alleges police chased and forced a car off the road then fled the scene. The crash ejected five people, paralyzed a 14-year-old boy and left another young man on life support. Three officers are under criminal and administrative investigations, and civil lawsuits are pending.

HPD recently started cracking down on compliance with their own rules within the last month, putting out an in-house video that is mandatory viewing.

“It provides details on what our policy says,” HPD Interim Chief Rade Vanic told the police commission last week. “It also provides information on what expectations are, some of the comments, some common misconceptions, and also what officers have been or haven’t been doing and ways to make sure that they are doing what they’re supposed to do.”

According to the model pursuit policy of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, departments should follow one of four approaches: (1) Allow pursuits at the officer’s discretion or (2) permit them only with supervisor approval (Vanic said HPD’s policy falls between those two). In other jurisdictions, (3) restrict chases only to specific situations while others (4) never allow them.

KHON2 asked Alivado what the police commission wants to see.

“All of these things have to remain flexible because, as we’ve seen in other jurisdictions, there are incidents where folks use vehicles to actually hurt people,” Alivado explained, referring to the recent case in Waukesha, Wisc., where a man intentionally drove into a parade route, killing and injuring many people.

“So, are those cases times where the officer has to use discretion in addressing how to pursue fleeing vehicles. I think all of this has to be taken into context. I think what we need to do is ensure that whatever the policy is, that officers — whether they have discretion or need supervisory approval — are they actually putting that into practice?”

Shannon Alivado, chairwoman of the Honolulu Police Commission

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Vanic said HPD is reviewing the pursuit policy as of November 2021.

“I have asked analysts in our I.T. division to take a closer look at the data that we have and to provide me with an analysis of the data so that we can make an informed decision about whether changes are needed to our policy,” Vanic added.

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