Assigned Reading: SC Mayor Defends ‘No Chase’ Police Policy
Okay, so I understand the reasoning behind other police departments’ “no chase” policies, or at the very least a threshold at which a police officer cannot cross in pursuing a suspect’s vehicle. Obviously, the safety of other motorists and pedestrians are a valid concern.
In Wellford, South Carolina however, police officers have been banned from chasing criminal suspects on foot, a policy defended by the local mayor, Sallie Peake, as a method of curbing health insurance and worker’s compensation costs.
A memo issued on September 2nd from Peake to all Wellford officers reads:
“As of this date, there are to be no more foot chases when a suspect runs. I do not want anyone chasing after any suspects whatsoever.“
WSPA first reported the mandate on Wednesday after an anonymous citizen faxed a copy of the memo to our newsroom. Peake was out of town and unavailable for comment. On Friday, reporter Chris Cato caught up with her in her office and questioned her about the origin of the policy. Peake says she issued the mandate because several officers have been injured during chases, driving up insurance costs for the town.
“The officers are costing us more money on insurance than most citizens here in the city of Wellford are even earning,“ says Peake.
She says the city is paying out $20,000 annually in workers’ compensation claims, much of it due to the police force. In July, two officers wrecked their cruisers while chasing suspects and had to go to the hospital for minor treatment. The police chief says three officers have been injured during foot chases in the last two years.
So, if you’re the criminal type and confronted by a police officer in Wellford, just run. They’re not allowed to follow you.
Seriously. The policy states, simply: “No chases whatsoever.”
But when we asked Peake about her order impeding an officer from stopping a crime in progress, she became defensive and irate. The conversation went as follows:
Reporter: “Are you telling your officers if they witness a crime – they witness someone commit a crime on someone else and they’re ten yards away – they can’t go stop that person?“
Peake: “Is that in there?“ (referring to policy)
Reporter: “It says no chases whatsoever.“
Peake: “Well, that’s what I said, no chases, didn’t I? I didn’t say nothing about a crime. If you see a crime, this that and the other -“
Reporter: “Well, that’s what a chase is – “
Peake: “Well, I told them no chase on foot, and (the police chief) know exactly what I mean, so you’re trying to twist what I -“
Reporter: “No, I’m not. You said no chases. No chases means no chases.“
Peake: (claps hands) “You got you a story, thank God! You are so sweet! You got you a story on a woman in Wellford! Hallelujah! I’m so proud of you, Mr. Cato!“
Now, I’m only learning the ins and outs of worker’s compensation law, and I’m certainly no expert on law enforcement, but this policy seems to directly countermand the very nature of “To Serve and Protect.”
Thinking on a municipal administration level, it’s one thing to save $20,000 in worker’s compensation costs and to otherwise pinch pennies in this economy, but what happens to the value of property and the welfare of local businesses when ne’er-do-wells figure out that, in Wellford, the police department is handcuffed to the extreme?
The whole thing is just embarrassing. I feel bad for the police officers, who likely signed up for more than just traffic duty and ticket-writing. And I feel bad for the people of Wellford — their local government obviously has its head in the sand when it comes to matters of priority and simple human nature, and if Mayor Peake is this oblivious about law enforcement, I can’t imagine what else is going on down there.