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Criminal Justice

New Oklahoma City police policy restricts vehicle pursuits

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Scott Rodgerson
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The Oklahoma City Police Department is adopting a more restrictive pursuit policy that officials say will increase public safety.

Effective, June 7, Oklahoma City police may not exceed the posted speed limit by 15 miles per hour on city streets and 25 miles per hour on highways when responding to a code 3 incident, which the department defines as an emergency situation where an officer activates their emergency lights and an audible siren.

“The decision to exceed the Code 3 speed restrictions set forth in this directive will require strong justification, such as a call or incident that may involve imminent loss of life or officer distress,” the updated policy reads.

The policy directs officers to “self-terminate” pursuits involving property offenses, traffic violations, simple assault and felony eluding in the following circumstances:

  • When entering an active school zone;
  • When entering an active construction zone with workers present;
  • When there are road conditions due to weather, poor repair or surface type. 
  • When pedestrian traffic is present in the area;
  • When the identity of the violator is known;
  • When officers know of and have access to, or can later access, information from a GPS tracking device on the suspect or the vehicle;
  • When the suspect’s driving behavior is such that it endangers the public or officers, including excessive speeds, disregard for traffic lights, driving into oncoming traffic or driving off-road. 

The continued pursuit of a person suspected of driving under the influence or committing a violent or sexual offense will require “strong justification” if they are driving recklessly. Officers will also be encouraged to halt the pursuit if the suspect can be located using a GPS device.

Master Sgt. Gary Knight of the Oklahoma City Police Department said the policy will help minimize the risk of injury or death resulting from a pursuit. There were a record 383 police chases in Oklahoma City in 2020, according to data collected by The Oklahoman.

On May 25, 2021, 28-year-old Star Shells was instantly killed when the driver of a stolen pickup truck being pursued by Oklahoma City police collided with her at the intersection of Martin Luther King Avenue and NE 16 Street. The chase reached speeds of 95 mph.

“Public safety is paramount, and we continue to look for ways to make policing safer for everyone involved,” Knight said in a statement.

The Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Several major cities, including Cincinnati, Atlanta and Chicago, have implemented policies limiting police chases over the past year. Bystanders and vehicle passengers are often victims of police pursuits, researchers have found.

Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public-policy issues facing the state.

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