Fresno police announce update on department's pursuit policy

Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama announced recent updates to the Fresno Police Department's pursuit policy during a news conference on Tuesday.

Video Transcript

PACO BALDERRAMA: I'm Chief of Police Paco Balderrama. I'm joined here with Fresno District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp. And I want to hold this press conference so I can update the public on a new pursuit policy that we have. This is not something that we just started working on. I actually began working on reviewing and improving our policy since I got here in January. And this particular policy has been one that we've been working on for the better part of three months.

So I believe that part of our duty as police leaders is to make better policies for our employees to follow. Law enforcement is quickly changing. There's a lot of improvements that are being made. But we also make huge, huge demands on our police officers. And that is why it is up to the leadership to have the best possible policies based on the best practices from across the country to give our police officers the tools that they need to do their jobs.

I can tell you that their job is extremely difficult. And right now, in Fresno, we are seeing a lot of violent crime. And as police officers, our duty is not just to identify those who are committing these crimes, but also to apprehend dangerous felons. And unfortunately, that apprehension of felons doesn't always end well or doesn't always have a happy ending.

With that being said, it is also our duty to weigh all the factors associated with the apprehension of a dangerous subject and to do the best that we can to protect the public while we are involved in police pursuits. We also know that police pursuits can be very dangerous, not just for police officers, but also for the public. And we have to take every factor available to us and every fact and every piece of information, and weigh that against the dangers of continuing to pursue. That is the reason why we made these changes. We made these updates to the policy. And I'm going to go through just some brief summary what those updates are. And then I'm going to hand it over to our District Attorney.

So one of the things that we wanted to allow is we wanted to allow our police officers to have a little bit more discretion and flexibility on when to pursue and when to terminate that pursuit. So one of the things that we did is, now, we are allowing a secondary officer, a supervisor, the primary officer, anybody directly involved in the pursuit to have that discretion to terminate the pursuit. A lot of times, the pursuing officer has so much information that they're having to process. And they have to make very quick decisions. And sometimes, they get tunnel vision, so we want to give them the flexibility that they don't have to make that call on their own.

If that's secondary pursuing officers see something that is too dangerous, that is not worth continuing to chase, they can terminate the pursuit themselves. Additionally, we want to discourage our police officers to not be engaged in a pursuit while they have a ride along or a passenger who is not law enforcement. So we don't want to jeopardize anybody else. And there's going to have to be strong justification to justify being involved or engaging in a pursuit when you have a ride along with you.

They are going to be some circumstances that are extreme. When we have persons in the city who we have reason to believe that they have not only hurt or killed someone, and they're going to continue to hurt or kill someone. And then obviously, we have an obligation, that type of situation, to continue the pursuit. So although at this current time, we only allow to pursuing officers and a supervisor, that supervisor has a discretion if we know it's going to be dangerous or a very dangerous situation. Trying to take this person into custody, they can add additional pursuing officers as long as they're following policy and using due caution.

The last thing I want to talk about is vehicles and technology. So one of the things that was not addressed in our previous policy is the use of undercover vehicles, police wagons, and police motorcycles in pursuit. Now, I will tell you this, the vehicles that we buy as police cruisers, they are pursuit raided. They are made and engineered to be able to be in a high speed chase. And they have the safety features that keep our officers face in the event of a collision.

Police motorcycles do not. Transport wagons do not. And undercover vehicles do not. So this policy also limits the use of these vehicles to only extreme circumstances. And whenever there is one of these vehicles that has limited capabilities, as soon as a police cruiser is available to take over the pursuit, and that's what the policy says, they should allow them to take over the pursuit.

Lastly, we do have a robust air support unit. We have skywatch. They have software they allow us to follow individuals from the air in a more safe environment. So one of the things that we wanted to clarify is we wanted to clarify the fact that when a skywatch is able to get eyes on that vehicle that we are pursuing, the ground units need to back off. And what we want to do is we want to allow the person who we're chasing to slow down and hopefully bail the vehicle so we can apprehend them. So this is also now a policy that unless there's extreme circumstances, that's what the officers are to do.

So here, recently, within the last six months, we've had various incidents resulting in the death of others, resulting in the death of innocents. And like I said before, pursuits can be very, very dangerous. I do want to make it clear that in none of these events was there a member of law enforcement actively chasing the person. These are situations and circumstances where the pursuit was either terminated or the pursuing officer had lost sight of the individual, and they were no longer pursuing.

But yet, that criminal in this case made some decisions that cost somebody their lives. And that is a tragedy. And I want to know-- I want you to know that they are going to be held accountable.