Northfield Selectboard approves police vehicular pursuit policy

  • A police cruiser parks outside the entrance to the Northfield Police Station, located in the basement of Northfield Town Hall at 69 Main St. Staff File Photo

  • Northfield Police Chief Jon Hall in the Police Station, located in two rooms in the basement of Town Hall. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/11/2022 3:50:40 PM
Modified: 8/11/2022 3:47:25 PM

NORTHFIELD — The Selectboard approved the Police Department’s new vehicular pursuit policy, which looks to promote responsible decision-making from officers, during Tuesday’s meeting.

The nine-page document “hasn’t changed all that much” content-wise from the town’s previous policy, Police Chief Jon Hall said in an introduction to the board. He said this policy, though, flows better than Northfield’s “really outdated” former version and falls more in line with state-recommended language.

The policy document opens with a brief summary of its necessity.

“Vehicular pursuit of fleeing suspects can present a danger to the lives of the public, officers and suspects involved in the pursuit,” it reads. “It is the policy of this department to regulate the manner in which vehicular pursuits are undertaken and performed, and that vehicular pursuits are authorized when the need to apprehend a fleeing suspect in a motor vehicle outweighs the risk created by the pursuit.”

“We essentially just want to pursue cars that we have to pursue,” Hall told the Selectboard. “We don’t want to enter into a pursuit of someone speeding, especially through Main Street, when pursuing them could make it potentially worse. You have kids going across on bikes, you’ve got the ice cream place right there, Northfield Creamie, and you could just see that being an issue.”

Procedures outlined in the document include 11 sections: definitions, pursuit decisions, pursuit operations generally, responsibilities of the supervisor, responsibilities of the primary and secondary units, responsibilities of the dispatcher, intervention tactics, inter- and intra-jurisdictional pursuits, termination of a pursuit, after-action reporting and training.

A primary restriction levied upon officers through the policy includes the requirement for an officer to adhere to traffic laws “unless the officer reasonably believes” there is due cause not to follow them. Authorization to violate typical traffic laws will be granted dependent on a crime’s severity, a serious threat to public safety, population density, the officer’s familiarity with the area and a variety of other considerations. The supervisor will also need to “evaluate the totality of the circumstances and decide, as quickly as possible, whether or not the pursuit should continue,” according to the document.

An array of six intervention tactics are detailed later in the policy: tire deflation devices, surrounding a vehicle with police cruisers, cutting off the fleeing vehicle with a cruiser, positioning roadblocks, deliberate contact with the fleeing vehicle and use of firearms in adherence to the “Use of Force” departmental policy. Most tactics require authorization from a supervisor.

The Selectboard worked with the policy’s language to maximize clarity before unanimously approving it on Tuesday, including only minor amendments. Before voting in favor, Selectboard member Alex Meisner said he would be supportive “just as long as the officer acts reasonable and takes enough time to study this language and this dialogue to make an informed, discretionary decision” when a pursuit is necessary.

“Tunnel vision kicks in, you’re focusing on the road, adrenaline kicks in,” he noted. “(Officers won’t say), ‘Oh, what does this policy say? I cannot do it’ because you’re not going to be thinking about that when you’re in the moment like that.”

Selectboard member Mary Bowen expressed a sense of security knowing an effective policy would be available to reference should anybody need to do so.

“It just makes me feel more collected,” she said. “When things do come up, we can just pull that right out.”

Those interested in viewing the Police Department’s full vehicular pursuit policy and other policies held by the department can request documents at bit.ly/3Pkxt4J.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.


Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
 

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy