Police pursuits on the rise; bill to issue mandatory minimums fails

A bill to issue mandatory minimums to suspects who elude police died in committee Friday. It was presented by southwest Virginia Delegate Israel O'Quinn. (WCYB Photo)

Local law enforcement is a little disheartened after a bill that would have set mandatory jail times for individuals who run from police dies in committee. The bill was presented by southwest Virginia Delegate Israel O'Quinn.

"Public safety is the main goal of our agency and we don't want to be putting the public in any greater risk than what we have to, but there are certain offenses we do need to pursue for," Major Byron Ashbrook with the Washington County, Virginia Sheriff's Office said. Ashbrook showed us numbers that their agency's police pursuits increased from 11 to 27 in just a year. So far in 2018, they have already had two.

"There are a lot of rules and regulations that we have to follow and a lot of policy as to when to pursue, how to pursue, when to terminate, and we stress that to our officers to a great extent," Ashbrook said.

Suspects who run from police are typically charged with felony eluding, but it does not always come with jail time once the charge makes it to court. Law enforcement was hoping for help from state legislators to establish a mandatory minimums.

"What ends up happening though is once they're arrested is they may or may not be charged with the ultimate crime, but the high-speed chase carries no penalty whatsoever, even though that chase can sometimes put the law enforcement in peril, put their own life in peril, and other motorists on the road in extreme danger," O'Quinn said.

O'Quinn sponsored the bill in the state house with the support of the sheriff's association.

"I think we've got to look at this and say are we serious about not wanting these high-speed chases to occur and if you do engage in a high-speed chase, you're going to pay some sort of additional penalty and really it's irrational that's not included as some sort of additional punishment," O'Quinn said.

However, the governor's office spoke out against it in committee. The sentencing commission said those charged with felony eluding should already be receiving appropriate jail time.

Authorities were concerned with possible suspended sentences that a concrete and clear message is not being sent to offenders.

Ashbrook said, "We have done a whole lot to look into regulating, restricting ways to capture these offenders other than pursuing them, but at some point don't we need to look at the offender and say 'Hey, some of this burden lays on you too?'"

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