On Sunday evening, Mount Carmel Police Department Officer Chris Vaughan attempted to stop a drug suspect for speeding and became involved in a pursuit that eventually hit 70 mph in a 30 mph zone in Church Hill.
Vaughan and Church Hill Police Department Officer Dustin Dean both broke off the chase due to public safety concerns, and the suspect was arrested after blowing a tire and crashing at the intersection of Highway 11-W and Silver Lake Road.
However, it was a May 30 chase involving MCPD Lt. Ken Lunsford Sr. that prompted city leaders to take a closer look at the department’s pursuit policy.
Lunsford chased a suspect from Mount Carmel to Claiborne County, reaching speeds reported as high as 117 mph. Lunsford eventually broke off the pursuit and the suspect was later captured in Lee County, Va.
City Manager Mike Housewright told the Times-News Monday that the city’s police pursuit policy is based largely on the recommendations of the Tennessee Municipal League, which provides the city’s liability insurance and outlines the criteria for pursuit and high speed pursuit.
Officers are required to take into account the weather conditions; time of day; traffic congestion; whether it’s reasonable to believe the suspect can be apprehended at a later time; and whether there’s a reason to believe that a violent felony could be committed if the suspect isn’t apprehended immediately.
“We’re going to take a look at revising it and see if there’s any room to tighten it, just so that officers will take a closer look before they engage in a pursuit,” Housewright said. “The thing about pursuit policies in general is they leave a lot of discretion to the officer. That’s good. I don’t ever want to second-guess an officer who is on the scene or undermine our officers’ ability to make those decisions, because ultimately they’re life and death decisions and they have to be made at a split second.
“But we also have to ensure that our policies promote public protection. That’s both in the sense of apprehending dangerous criminals, as well as calling off a pursuit when public safety becomes endangered.”
Housewright said he’s working with interim Police Chief Grady White to create a policy by which all pursuits will be reviewed on a case by case basis.
If it’s found that the pursuit happened outside the scope of the policy, then there would likely be some type of action taken, whether it be educational or disciplinary.
“I don’t want to go straight to discipline, but at the same time we want to ensure that all of our officers are fully confident in their understanding of pursuit policy and the criteria that establishes a legitimate pursuit,” Housewright said.
Housewright isn’t prepared to say whether he believes either of the MCPD’s recent high speed chases were outside the scope of the current pursuit policy, although he did say that Lunsford’s pursuit into Claiborne County is the reason he and White are now reviewing that policy.