Archive for Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Officer-turned-attorney asks for police pursuit changes

September 3, 2003


A former police officer -- now an attorney -- on Tuesday criticized police pursuit policies after the death of a Lawrence woman last week in a crash with a reckless driving suspect.

Greg Robinson told the Lawrence City Commission the pursuit policy should be changed.

"I believe that pursuing that vehicle for misdemeanors down West Ninth at such a high rate of speed, with limited sight distances, is not a correct policy," he told commissioners.

Mayor David Dunfield said commissioners were keeping tabs on City Manager Mike Wildgen's review of the Lawrence Police Department policy.

"Something like this happens, I think we owe it to everybody to make sure the policies are reasonable and being followed," Dunfield said.

He added: "We're not going to prevent tragedies caused by somebody who's out of control."

Nam Ouk Cho, 19, Lee's Summit, Mo., is accused of leading police in Lawrence on a high-speed chase Aug. 26 that began near downtown and ended in a crash at the intersection of 31st Street and Nieder Road. The collision killed Lawrence resident Judith Vellucci, 56.

Douglas County District Court Judge Robert Fairchild scheduled a Sept. 16 preliminary hearing for Cho during a brief hearing Tuesday.

Cho, who remained Tuesday in the Douglas County Jail on $150,000 bond, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Vellucci.

After the crash, Police Chief Ron Olin said his officers followed the department's pursuit policy, which requires officers to stop giving chase "if the safety conditions clearly override the necessity of the pursuit." Wildgen said he agreed with the assessment but would review the policy.

Robinson on Tuesday said police initially gave chase to Cho because he was driving badly on Massachusetts Street. The chase continued along crowded city streets, Robinson said, endangering other drivers.

Robinson, who served on the department in the mid-1990s, asked commissioners to check police dispatch tapes to gauge the speed of officers as they pursued Cho. And he asked commissioners to consider putting video cameras in Lawrence Police cars.

Dunfield said commissioners rarely would get involved in setting police policies.

"We have to have a pretty high level of confidence in our staff and police to know their jobs better than a bunch of elected officials do," he said.

But Velucci's death demands closer scrutiny, Dunfield said.

"Clearly, this was a very unusual situation," he said. "I don't remember anything like it."

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