Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announces new chase policy

7:48 PM, Mar 17, 2014   |    comments
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Largo, FL -- A new high-speed chase policy is in effect as of Monday at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

They say it's designed to balance lives and livelihood. 

It's been 30 years since Sheriff Bob Gualtieri can remember a Pinellas County deputy chase ending in an innocent loss of life, but a sharp increase in recent years in the number of high-speed chases got him asking, "Is it worth it?"

Several pursuits, like one in 2012 caught on dashcam video, showed deputies were violating department policy. So last year, Sheriff Gualtieri instituted unofficial, more restrictive chase criteria.

The numbers since then had dropped off dramatically, so on Monday he made it official policy.

If you're gonna engage in a chase, said Gualtieri, "It better not be for something that isn't worth somebody's life."

That means unarmed property crimes, assaults without a weapon, even an arson where only property is lost will no longer prompt a pursuit.

So for example, if a vehicle gets stolen off the lot at PJ's Auto World in Clearwater? No chase.

That doesn't sit well with owner Pete Gianfilippo.

"You can't let people think it is OK to just walk somewhere and steal. If they know that's gonna be able to be done, I think you're gonna see a lot more crimes," said Gianfilippo.

But unlike some departments whose chase policies only call for pursuits in the case of a violent crime or felony, Gualtieri wanted to give his deputies flexibility to target the driver, not just the alleged crime.

For example, he said, during Spring Break along the beach, if a deputy witnesses someone driving so erratically that it could mean pedestrians are in danger of being injured or even killed, deputies could chase that driver.

"You know, they could hit someone, someone could get hurt. So they should do anything they have to do from running over someone," said beach visitor Bobbi Mills.

The actual length of pursuits in Pinellas has also dropped off dramatically this past year, from an average of several minutes to just one or two.

The new chase policy goes into effect immediately.

READ: Pinellas Sheriff's new chase policy

The sheriff says it took more than a year for them to form the new, official policy because they wanted to included everyone in the process right down to front line deputies.

Depending upon the circumstances, deputies who violate the new rules could likely face anywhere from a 5-day suspension to possibly being fired, said Sheriff Gualtieri.

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