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Kameel Stanley
By Kameel Stanley January 9, 2014

St. Petersburg police announce change in pursuit policy

Making good on one of Mayor Rick Kriseman's campaign promises, police leaders announced Thursday that they were tightening up rules governing police pursuits.

The change essentially means the chase policy will revert back to the old one, which said officers could only pursue people suspected of violent felonies. It is effective immediately, said Acting Police Chief David DeKay.

"This change in the pursuit policy will still allow officers to be effective in apprehending violent fleeing felons while minimizing risk to the public," DeKay said in a statement.

The pursuit policy has always been controversial — and frequently, political.

Former Mayor Bill Foster made it a central part of his campaign for mayor in 2009. He promised to loosen the policy to allow officers to go after brazen criminals who knew that police were limited in how they could respond. Foster made good on that promise after he took office, earning the praise of police unions.

Kriseman also made it part of his campaign last year, but he promised residents to reverse Foster's directive.

"During the campaign, I made my concerns about this policy clear," Kriseman said in a statement Thursday. "Today, I am glad to stand with Chief DeKay, who is in agreement with me, as the police department reverts to the previous policy regarding high speed pursuit."

Kriseman's promise — one of 25 being tracked in PolitiFact Florida's Krise-O-Meter — did not earn him any points with the police union.

The Suncoast Police Benevolent Association is against the change, said union president Mark Marland.

"This change to the pursuit policy does not come as a surprise as he spoke about it on the campaign trail," Marland said Thursday. "What is concerning and disheartening is that he is making a policy change based on the Tampa Bay Times, anti-police activist groups, and one blowhard uninformed city council member."

Marland was referring to council member Wengay Newton, who has been a critic of the policy and said that chases are endangering residents.

There was an initial spike in the number of pursuits after the policy change in 2010. But the numbers have leveled off, according to police data.

In 2009, the year before the change, there were 20 police pursuits in the city. There were 16 in 2010; 34 in 2011; 26 in 2012 and 17 last year.

The new policy calls for an annual analysis of pursuit reports, as well as a review of the policy itself.

Kriseman vowed to change the pursuit policy numerous times on the campaign trail. We rate this Promise Kept.

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