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Officer who risked his life in freeway chases wants runaway speeders to risk jail

March 17, 1988|ERIC WILHELMUS | Times Staff Writer

Speeding at more than 100 m.p.h. in pursuit of a suspected stolen car, Pomona police Officer Mike Dorn constantly evaluated his situation.

Barreling down the 210 Freeway toward Monrovia at 1 a.m., Dorn was torn by conflicting thoughts: his duty to enforce the law, his responsibility to ensure the public's safety and his obligations to his wife and 3-year-old son.

Meanwhile, the fleeing driver left the freeway, crashed the Datsun 280Z into several parked cars on a Monrovia street and headed back toward the freeway.

With the help of other officers, the driver was ultimately caught, but Dorn's anger did not subside when the chase ended last year.

"I'm angry at the clowns who are running, because anyone in their path is in danger," said Dorn, 42, a nine-year police veteran who was involved in four high-speed chases within a 12-month period.

Frustrated by such dangerous chases and "toothless" laws involving drivers who try to elude police, Dorn decided to write a stiffer law.

His proposal, to be introduced in the Legislature next month by Assemblyman Tim Leslie (R-Sacramento), would establish mandatory punishments, including jail terms in some cases, for those convicted of leading police on high-speed chases.

Dorn said he felt qualified to write the proposed law because "there are some things policemen have a better view on than legislators do. This is one of the things I have had first-hand experience in."

Dorn's measure, which received support and legal guidance from the 150-member Pomona Police Officers' Assn., would make major changes in the law.

Under present law, it is a misdemeanor to attempt to evade a police officer. Those convicted can receive up to a year in jail.

Under Dorn's proposal, those found guilty of evading police at speeds of more than 25 m.p.h. above the posted speed limit would receive a mandatory sentence of 30 days in county jail. In addition, the judge could sentence them to up to three years in state prison.

The bill would impose even stiffer penalties for chases that result in bodily injury to police officers or to innocent motorists and bystanders. In those cases, an offender would receive a mandatory prison sentence of two to four years.

Although there are no official statistics, police say the number of high-speed pursuits is increasing. A special California Highway Patrol study in 1983, covering 11 California police departments, listed 683 chases in a six-month period.

Detective Mike Price, president of the Pomona police association, estimated that last year there were at least 200 high-speed chases in Pomona alone.

Dorn said people try to evade police for a variety of reasons.

"They run because they don't want a ticket," he said. "One guy ran because he was naked. They are wanted for other violations. For some people, it's the thrill of the chase."

Although the Pomona Police Department had plenty of experience in chasing evaders, it had no experience in the political arena. So the proposed legislation was submitted to the Peace Officers' Research Assn. of California (PORAC), a 50,000-member political action group headquartered in Sacramento.

"We don't have any expertise in that area," said Dorn. " So we just forwarded it to them. They've been invaluable. I wouldn't know who to send the legislation to."

Nolice Edwards, a PORAC lobbyist working on behalf of the proposal, said it is not unusual for her organization to receive legislation written by a police officer because PORAC encourages such action.

But she added: "Dorn's legislation was ranked as the top piece of legislation at our last meeting in November."

She said Pomona did an excellent job of drafting the proposal.

Dorn had proposed even stiffer mandatory penalties for repeat offenders. But Edwards said those proposals were dropped because of concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and Attorneys for Criminal Justice over the unfairness of tougher penalties.

Dorn and Price plan to go to Sacramento to lobby for the proposal.

"It is our sincere hope that the California Legislature will pass this bill without watering it down," Price said. "The deterrent and punitive aspects of this legislation will go a long way to protect residents of Pomona and the entire state."

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