A southwest Atlanta woman was heading to church in January 2016 with her two grandchildren when a man fleeing College Park police slammed into their car, killing all three.
Now their family is urging Georgia lawmakers to establish a statewide policy for when officers should pursue a suspect and when they should call off that chase to keep the public safe.
“State Patrol gets a year of training,” said Doug Partridge, whose children and mother-in-law were killed in the crash. “But city police aren’t getting enough training to know how to handle these chases.”
While statewide statistics weren’t available, the loss of Partridge’s family members isn’t an isolated incident. A South Fulton police officer pursuing a stolen vehicle last month collided with a van, killing three men.
State Sen. Gail Davenport, D-Jonesboro, said she plans to file legislation in January that would create a standard for state, county and city police agencies that authorize police pursuits. She proposed a similar bill in 2016, but it received no traction.
“We support the police. We respect the police,” she said. “But we want to make sure no innocent lives are lost.”
Law enforcement officials who spoke at a hearing Friday to study police pursuits agreed that specialized training was necessary to keep the public and officers safe, but they told senators they believe those decisions should be made by each jurisdiction.
“I know that a lot of times the incidents that occur are very difficult, and they’re ones that are very emotional,” Georgia State Patrol Col. Mark McDonough said. “But for the bigger picture, I think that it’s important … that folks need to realize that when a police officer signals them to pull over, it’s their responsibility under the law to do so.”
Some local jurisdictions, including Atlanta and Dunwoody, don’t allow officers to pursue cars when the driver isn’t actively violent or accused of committing a felony. South Fulton police changed their policy on pursuing stolen cars Nov. 27, about two weeks after last month’s fatal crash.
It is up to the officer to weigh the seriousness of the crime against the threat of endangering the public and decide whether to call off the pursuit.
Joi Partridge said she wants officers statewide to get the proper training to know when it becomes unsafe to the public to continue to pursue a suspect who is fleeing — such as when the chase enters a neighborhood. Had that been the policy of College Park officers in 2016, she said she believes her mother, 12-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter would still be alive.
“It doesn’t make sense to chase through a neighborhood where the speed limit is 25 or 35 miles an hour,” she said. “After the accident, they didn’t even apprehend the suspect.”
Partridge and her husband are suing the College Park and Atlanta police departments in the deaths in their family.
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