9OYS Investigation: DPS Pursuit Operations Policy
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Pursuits are common among law enforcement agencies but the one that happened last Thursday was different. Ronald Papanikolas was killed when a suspect fleeing from a DPS officer slammed into the back of his pickup truck.
KGUN9 On Your Side has obtained the DPS pursuit policy through an unofficial source with the agency. Having the policy in hand we noticed the first section of the policy; "the primary concern to protect the lives and safety of all citizens and officers."
Ultimately the decision to chase or not is left to the individual officer. But there are guidelines that aid the officer in the decision to pursue or not. Specifically officers "Shall not pursue vehicles when the suspected transport of undocumented aliens, a non hazardous traffic violation, or an equipment violation is the primary offense."
With this policy in mind the question still remains whether or not this pursuit was actually warranted. We know that Morando is suspected of carrying drugs in the trunk of his car when he was initially pulled over for following too closely. Does the presence of narcotics in a vehicle qualify as more than a "non-hazardous traffic violation"? Only DPS can answer that question and they are not talking.
The pursuit lasted 30 miles, the victims family, some of our viewers, and KGUN9 have asked why did the officer not stop the pursuit?
DPS's policy clearly says that the chase will be terminated immediately when the "pursuit commander", any sworn supervisor, or any commander orders the pursuit terminated. In addition the pursuit is to be terminated if there is a clear and unreasonable hazard existing to the officer, the fleeing suspect, or any citizens.
A pursuit is also to be terminated if it leaves a controlled access highway into a densely populated or congested environment and the only known offense is a traffic infraction, misdemeanor, or non-violent felony, including felony flight.
Once a pursuit is over the department's chain of command investigate and review the details. Ultimately they are the ones who decide if the deadly chase last Thursday was warranted. Officials have told KGUN9 On Your Side that the investigation is expected to last several weeks.