Murfreesboro Police Chief Karl Durr’s full letter to city council

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MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Murfreesboro police chief is asking for change after a young mother was killed, following a police pursuit.

Murfreesboro Police Chief Karl Durr sent the following letter of concern to the city council:

Honorable Mayor and Council Members:

As your Chief of Police, I feel the need to express my concerns and heavy heart over a recent tragedy in our city. On Friday, June 24, 2016 Murfreesboro became a darker place when the life of a young mother and the light she brought to our community was tragically extinguished in a motor vehicle crash on S. Church Street. This was not a typical fatal crash however. In this case, the crash occurred during a police pursuit which initiated in Coffee County and unfortunately continued into our city. The MPD did not participate in the deadly pursuit, however it made a significant impact on both our department and our community.

The facts, as I understand them today, tell a troubling story, beginning with the theft of a motor vehicle from a Manchester funeral home. Police officers in Manchester and Coffee County Deputy Sheriffs initiated a pursuit based solely on a suspected property crime. The pursuit took officers on a wild chase down I-24, where I personally observed numerous police cars chasing the stolen vehicle. My family and I were traveling the opposite direction on the busy interstate when we first observed the chase, followed by a second and third group of police vehicles attempting to catch up to the initial group of pursuing officers.

The pursuit was picked up near the Rutherford County line by our own county’s deputy sheriffs and the chase entered our city on S. Church Street headed south. This was the busiest time of day for traffic in this area, as it was the end of a busy Friday, the worst possible time to conduct a vehicle pursuit. At some point, near Joe B. Jackson Parkway, the suspect vehicle crossed the median and struck another vehicle. The crash was devastating and despite the best efforts of medical personnel, Jessica Campos lost her life. Her young child survived the horrific crash but the trauma the child suffered will never be erased. The Tennessee Highway Patrol is conducting an investigation and criminal charges have been filed against the suspected car thief, including vehicular homicide.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) an average of 329 people are killed in police chases in the US annually. As a result of that staggering number, many law enforcement agencies have adopted restrictive pursuit policies severely limiting the appropriateness of police pursuits. Before restrictive pursuit policies, often the worst thing that officers found at the end of a chase was a suspended license or an ashtray with a marijuana stem. Today, police and community leaders have decided that pursuits are not worth the danger when they could cause the death of the suspect, an officer, or an innocent motorist in the wrong place at the wrong time, as was the case last week. While our officers are highly trained, a pursuit can push the officer beyond their driving capabilities which can result in deadly crashes.

Police pursuits also create enormous civil liability for police officers and agencies. Equally obvious is the need to protect the public and police from unnecessary risks created by indiscriminate high speed chases. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, professional law enforcement agencies limit pursuits through policy, training, supervision, discipline, and technology to balance the risks and the need for criminal apprehension to protect the community.

It is the current policy of the MPD to limit pursuits to mostly violent felonies, and we are currently in the process of reviewing the policy. We rely heavily on police supervisors to quickly interpret the situation and determine whether initiating or maintaining a pursuit is appropriate or within policy.

Although our officers undergo training in routine, emergency, and pursuit driving, we believe it is best to limit pursuits to situations where the possible failure to apprehend a suspect poses a greater risk to our community than the risk of a pursuit.

Our policy is restrictive because we recognize the sanctity of life over property. In my experience from south Florida and Oregon, I have unfortunately seen firsthand the damages and tragic outcomes of police pursuits. I hope that our fellow law enforcement agencies will evaluate their current training, policies, and practices, to give proper weight to the sanctity of life when determining whether to engage in police pursuits.

Myself, and the officers of the MPD are profoundly saddened by the loss of a member of our community, a mother who her child will never know and a family who will be affected forever because of choices by police leaders. Many of our officers are deeply upset over the decisions made which led to this tragedy. We offer our condolences to the Campos family and we owe it to them to encourage other law enforcement agencies to change their policies, practices, and training so other communities and families do not have to suffer such a loss. I urge you to consider asking the Tennessee Legislature to adopt a statewide policy restricting pursuits to cases where a violent felony has been committed.

Sincerely,

James K. Durr

Chief of Police

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