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KC metro police department policies vary on pursuits over stolen cars

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Posted at 7:31 PM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 20:31:42-04

JACKSON COUNTY, Mo. — In light of a recent high-speed chase initiated by Lone Jack police that ended with a fatal crash, the 41 Action News I-Team is taking a closer look at pursuit policies in the Kansas City metro.

The Lone Jack Police Department's four-page policy hasn't been updated since 2005, yet still guides the decisions of officers, including those involved in the pursuit that turned deadly earlier this month.

Officers initially pursued 30-year-old Francois Orloff because, according to police, he was driving a stolen Ford Ranger.

The department's pursuit policy does allow pursuits for auto theft, a felony crime.

However, the document emphasizes an officer must conclude "the immediate danger to the officer and the public created by the pursuit is less than the immediate or potential danger to the public should the suspect remain at large."

John Hamilton, Park University associate professor and chair of the Criminal Justice Department, questioned whether a stolen truck meets the threshold to initiate a pursuit that could put the public in danger.

"I've always thought that to take the risk on property crimes is probably a risk that's not worth taking," Hamilton said.

Charging documents do show Orloff admitted to taking heroin and methamphetamines before getting behind the wheel, and that when he didn't die, he "just started driving faster and faster, weaving in and out of traffic," which could have been a factor in continuation of the pursuit.

The city of Lone Jack, as well as police, declined an interview request on Tuesday.

Several departments aside from Lone Jack allow pursuits for stolen cars, including the Independence Police Department.

Yet in Independence, the department's policy specifically states officers should consider alternatives first, like requesting a Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department helicopter's assistance or using technology that can deploy a GPS tag on a stolen vehicle so it can be tracked safely.

RELATED: The price of pursuit: Police chases can lead to lawsuits, property damage

Meanwhile, KCPD's policy states officers "will not initiate a vehicle pursuit for a serious traffic violation, DUI or stolen auto unless the suspect vehicle or occupant(s) has been involved in a dangerous felony, or where the suspect vehicle or occupant(s) presents a clear and immediate danger to the safety of others."

Similarly, a spokesperson for the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department told the I-Team on Tuesday that officers will only pursue for violent felonies. That marks a change to the policy that was in place as recently as 2019, when KCKPD allowed chases for misdemeanors.

The severity of a crime is something Hamilton said is a key factor in pursuits.

"When you look at crimes where it's just not as serious and people's lives and welfare aren't at stake, then it's awfully hard to explain why it was worth the loss of life to make an apprehension such as that," he said, "It's very difficult, and really, for me, it is hard to justify."

Although the recent Lone Jack pursuit started with a felony, the department's policy does not explicitly prohibit chases for misdemeanors.

In fact, in one passage, the policy states that any officer can initiate a pursuit "when the suspect exhibits the intention to avoid apprehension by refusing to stop when properly directed to do so." In other words, the act of fleeing might be enough to trigger a chase.

"To rely on that as the only reason to initiate a chase, I think, is a very dangerous way to go," Hamilton said.

Aside from Lone Jack, both Missouri and Kansas highway patrols and Independence also allow chases for misdemeanors.

That's something the I-Team first examined two years ago, when a woman and her father were seriously injured after being caught in the middle of a police pursuit in Independence.

The suspect who crashed into them was accused of not wearing a seatbelt and then failing to stop for police.