Atlanta police alter ‘no-chase’ policy

The police department has reinstated parts of its chase policy.

The police department has reinstated parts of its chase policy.

The Atlanta Police Department has rescinded parts of its “no-chase” policy less than a year after the agency’s former chief prohibited officers from engaging in pursuits.

The altered policy, which went into effect Dec. 30, was approved by interim police Chief Rodney Bryant. The 15-page manual states that an officer can engage in a police pursuit when “they have direct knowledge” that the fleeing suspect has committed or attempted to commit a “forcible felony” and that the suspect’s escape poses imminent danger.

Those “forcible” felonies include murder, vehicular homicide, armed robbery, carjacking, aggravated assault, kidnapping, escape and both voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Chases for property offenses, misdemeanors, traffic offenses or civil infractions are explicitly outlawed.

“Officers are not authorized to engage in a vehicle pursuit in order to subdue an escaping suspect who presents no imminent threat of death or serious injury. Vehicle pursuits may never be used for the protection of property,” the policy said.

The officer also has to have a supervisor’s approval before they can begin the pursuit, the policy said.

“The officer is prohibited from engaging in the pursuit until they receive permission from their unit commander or immediate supervisor,” it said.

Bryant has not publicly commented on the new policy.

Former police Chief Erika Shields put a policy into place last January that prohibited officers from pursuing fleeing suspects after a series of high-speed chases left innocent drivers dead.

In December 2019, a man was killed when a car fleeing police struck him as he was on the way to pick up medicine for his disabled child. The same month, a woman died when a suspect fleeing police in a stolen vehicle smashed into her car.

Instead of chasing cars, Atlanta officers typically request the assistance of Georgia State Patrol troopers, who are still authorized to chase suspects.

The updated policy comes weeks after the agency said one of its officers violated protocol ahead of a crash that left a woman dead.

On Dec. 9, an officer responded to a call about a stolen Jaguar at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis on Peachtree Center Avenue. When he spotted the red SUV at the intersection of John Portman Boulevard and Piedmont Avenue, he followed it while updating other officers on the vehicle’s location, officials said.

The vehicle eventually pulled in front of a gated entrance on Courtland Street, at which point the officer activated his emergency lights and tried to stop the luxury car, authorities said. The Jaguar reversed, striking the officer’s patrol vehicle before driving the wrong direction on Courtland Street at a high rate of speed, police said.

“The vehicle continued north, striking a utility pole near Juniper Street and 11th Street,” a police spokesman said. “Officers arrived on scene moments after the crash and observed the vehicle upside down and engulfed in flames. An occupant exited the burning vehicle with his body engulfed in flames.”

Police sprayed the man with a fire extinguisher and firefighters were able to extinguish the burning SUV, authorities said.

The man, who had been driving the stolen vehicle, was later identified as 23-year-old Donte Harris. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition but later died of his injuries, police said. A woman riding in the passenger seat was pronounced dead at the scene. Her name has not been released.

The fatal wreck remains under investigation. It wasn’t immediately clear if the officer involved in the incident faces disciplinary action.