YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Los Angeles

Police Panel to Study Pursuit Policy

Safety: The meeting was called after the death of a 4-year-old bystander in a chase Saturday morning.


The Los Angeles Police Commission has called a special meeting today to discuss the department's pursuit policy after a 4-year-old girl was killed over the weekend in a crash caused by a driver fleeing officers.

"I want to do everything I can to avoid this again," said Police Commission President Rick J. Caruso, who was briefed by police on Saturday's crash. "And if it's between the child and the criminal, I would rather let the criminal go."

Caruso emphasized that he is not seeking to criticize the officers. But he wants police to explain the reasoning behind existing policies and possible alternatives.

He said he wants to review the Police Department's policy on pursuits to ensure that it is appropriate.

"I'm not sure that it's not appropriate, so don't read anything into that," Caruso said.

But, he said, "the question that remains in my mind is, what exactly is the policy dealing with a very crowded situation?"

The chain-reaction accident began about 11:30 a.m. Saturday, when an auto theft suspect fleeing Los Angeles police ran a red light at 6th and Spring streets. The stolen BMW sedan hit a minivan that struck a traffic light, which fell on Evelyn Vargas. The girl had been standing next to her mother on the sidewalk.

The driver, Darren Rhinehardt of Los Angeles, has been charged with murder. The 41-year-old was severely injured but is expected to survive, police said.

The two people inside the minivan, Antonio Aguado, 47, and Ana Gasca, 41, both of Los Angeles, were seriously injured but are in stable condition, police said.

Witnesses on Saturday criticized police for chasing a suspect through the area, which was filled with shoppers and merchants. They said they believed that the suspect was driving as fast as 55mph with one LAPD cruiser close behind. The speed limit in the area is 25 mph.

According to LAPD policy, the senior officer in the pursuing car has the responsibility of deciding whether to continue a pursuit. The officer must weigh the potential threat to bystanders against the need to make an arrest, taking into account traffic, pedestrians and how dangerous the suspect is.

LAPD Cmdr. Gary Brennan said that according to preliminary information, the chase was within policy.

Saturday's accident comes at a time when the number of pedestrians injured in pursuits is on the rise in Los Angeles, as is the number of police pursuits.

There were 769 pursuits last year, up from 597 in 2000, according to LAPD statistics. Pedestrian injuries nearly doubled from 1998 to 2001.

Los Angeles Times Articles