Hurtt Defends Proposed No-Chase Policy

Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt says a proposed pursuit policy won't give criminals a "free pass," but Houston City Council members and others aren't so sure. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the revised policy is getting even more scrutiny since it was implemented late last month, and then pulled back.

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Chief Hurtt tried to quietly put in place the revised policy that would have limited police pursuits, but quickly changed his mind after city leaders and members of the police officer's union raised concerns about the new rules. At city council's public safety committee meeting, the chief defended his efforts to create a chase policy that's both safe and effective.

"Everytime a chief in any size city, when you talk about changing pursuit policy, you're always going to get criticized. You're too liberal or you're too restrictive, and what we've tried to do is come with a policy that's kind of in the middle of the road."

Under Hurtt's proposal, officers would only engage in pursuits if the crime involved was above a Class C misdemeanor. Officers would not pursue drivers for minor traffic violations or even minor crimes, but would for more serious felonies.

"We're not going to be able to please everybody with this policy, we never will, but we're going to try to come up with a policy that is good for Houston."

Many other large cities, like Los Angeles, San Antonio, Austin and Orlando have various no-pursuit policies that have lead to a reduction in chase-related accidents and injuries. But the Houston Police Officers Union's Hans Marticuic says he opposes a policy that let's criminals know HPD won't always pursue them.

"It's a contentious issue, it's controversial. You need to take a look at it and you have to find a fine balancing act. But just to blanket say, no pursuit on traffic, I think that's very wrong. We raise our hands, we're raising the white flag, criminals, go ahead and take over, because that's exactly what's going to happen. There is not a criminal element out there, knowing that this policy is in effect, that will not flee from you at that point."

Critics of police pursuits say protecting the innocent public from dangerous chases is much more important than the need to catch drivers who won't pull over. Three years ago, the 25-year-old daughter of Steve Flores was paralyzed after her car was hit by another vehicle that was being chased by a local constable.

"This is one chase I wish they wouldn't have been on, but I wish I had the exact answer. That's hopefully why we have these intelligent people down here speaking and having dialogue over it. I don't think there's going to be one correct answer, but I appreciate that they are speaking about it because if we don't do that, then we probably won't come up with the right answer."

City councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck says the right answer is not a soft stance on criminals and pursuits.

"I think its essential for public policy that we as a city send a message that if you run from police we will pursue you."

Chief Hurtt says he'll consider the input, but says his revised policy is safer for the public and police officers. There's no word yet on when or if the revised policy will be used again.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...