An undetermined number of reports about police pursuits in California – some that ended in death – did not get included in statistics complied by the California Highway Patrol as required by state law, an anaylsis by the Southern California News Group shows.
In just Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties for last year alone, reports on five pursuits were missing from the records of the CHP, which is supposed to receive reports from law-enforcement agencies within 30 days of a chase.
The missing reports were discovered by comparing 2020 Southern California News Group stories on pursuits to the 9,861 filed reports that already show 41 deaths, the highest annual total in the 15 years after the safety law went into effect in 2006.
In those five chases, six people were killed and five others injured – putting the year’s death count at 46, which could be even higher.
Beginning in 2006, a law intended to improve pursuit safety included a provision calling for the compiling of statistics that included the number of collisions, injuries and deaths for an annual report sent to lawmakers.
“The catalyst for the bill back in 2005 was the fact that there were a number of deaths as a consequence of police pursuits, and thus the initiative to start to keep track, analyze, and study them, and then see what we could do differently,” said state Sen. Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, who voted in favor of the bill as an Assembly member.
“And if they’re not being reported, sounds like the Legislature needs to take a re-look at the issue,” he said.
Umberg said he plans to contact other senators about the possible gaps in the pursuit reporting system, as well as the increase in overall number of deaths and pursuits.
The CHP contacted each affected local law enforcement agency and requested the records, said Fran Clader, director of communications for the CHP. The CHP has since received the missing reports from the local agencies.
The police agencies where the discrepancies were noticed concerned the Cypress, Riverside and San Bernardino police departments, and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on a missing report for a fatal September pursuit. Cypress, Riverside and San Bernardino police said they submitted their reports on time. Two agencies blamed possible technological errors for the absent records.
“We’ve got nothing to hide,” said Officer Ryan Railsback, a spokesman for the Riverside Police Department. “If it didn’t get submitted somehow, it would have to do with the technological aspect of things.”
Technological errors are not common, Clader said.
“If the report is not in the PRS (Pursuit Reporting System), it may have been lost in the mail, a failure of the fax machine, or was never sent,” Clader said.
One of the missing reports involved a pursuit in the early morning hours of Feb. 23, 2020, when, authorities said, a 22-year-old woman chased by Riverside police for driving a suspected stolen Honda Civic lost control. The car overturned on a Magnolia Avenue offramp of the 91 Freeway, killing her and injuring her passenger.
Another pursuit initially missing from CHP records took place on April 9, 2020: Police chased a suspected stolen Kia Soul, which near 16th Street and Medical Center Drive hit a parked car, a telephone pole and a tree, authorities said, killing the 18-year-old passenger and injuring the 19-year-old driver.
In a March 2020 pursuit that was missing from state records, a driver chased by Cypress and Los Alamitos police for a suspected hit-and-run slammed into a 71-year-old man sleeping in front of a pharmacy in Los Alamitos, authorities said, killing him.
Candy Priano, a safety advocate and founder of Pursuit Safety, a nonprofit that aims to reduce the number of deaths and injuries in law-enforcement chases, said she has little faith in the reporting system.
“Who is overseeing the police departments (to ensure) they’re reporting pursuit fatalities and even injuries?” Priano said after hearing about fatal collisions missing from state records. “There’s just no government oversight on these numbers.”
Source: Orange County Register