Aug. 20--OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers are no longer allowed to join pursuits of fleeing drivers when the chase is started by another law enforcement agency unless the agency asks troopers to join, under a new order effective this month.
The "special order" on pursuits was initially put in place in June to cover only Troop A, a seven-county area that includes Oklahoma City. It was rescinded Aug. 1 after a meeting between Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson and the Oklahoma State Troopers Association.
The order was revised and put back into place Aug. 3 covering the entire patrol, according to records requested by the Tulsa World.
OHP Lt. George Brown said the agency has been discussing the issue for some time with Oklahoma City police. Brown said there was no specific incident that prompted the special order.
"We want to make sure anything we are going to be doing to assist, that we are doing it in a safe mode for the public and our agency. Pursuits are dangerous and things happen, people get hurt," Brown said.
On Aug. 31, 2000, an Oklahoma City police officer, an OHP trooper and two other people died in a multicar crash.
The officer, Jeffrey Rominger, was chasing a car driving east in the westbound lanes of Interstate 40 when it collided with a westbound OHP vehicle driven by Trooper Matt Evans. Rominger, Evans and two occupants in the fleeing car died in the crash.
OHP troopers and personnel were involved in 90 pursuits last year, of which 19 were initiated by other agencies, said Capt. Chris West, a spokesman for the patrol. This year so far, the agency has been involved in 76 pursuits, 13 started by other agencies, West said.
In a June 15 email to troopers assigned to Troop A, Maj. Gerald Davidson and Capt. Jeff Griffith announced the procedural change involving pursuits started by other agencies.
"The Patrol, and by the nature of the dynamics of Troop A being in the most populated region of the state, is often requested to assist with pursuits and routinely asked to take over as the primary unit," the email states. "This can result in placing our members in undue hazardous situations and expending our resources unnecessarily."
The email continues: "Effective immediately, Troop A units will no longer take over a pursuit initiated by another agency whether in a town or in our primary enforcement areas, on the interstate system. We can still respond, but in a support role only."
The email lists several possible exceptions to the new procedure, including pursuit of a suspect involved in a major crime or an escapee.
Brown said the policy was rescinded Aug. 1, after Thompson met with members of the Oklahoma State Troopers Association.
Keith Barenberg, a member of the association's executive board, said the association is studying the new special order. Barenberg declined further comment.
Troop A has about 65 troopers assigned to it. However, Brown said many other troopers come to the Oklahoma City area for training or work specialty assignments in the area, such as commercial vehicle enforcement.
West said OHP officials "realized this probably needed to be a much broader policy instead of just limited to Troop A."
Two days later, Col. Kerry Pettingill, chief of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, issued the revised special order concerning pursuits started by other agencies.
"Members shall not join pursuits initiated by other another law enforcement agency unless specifically requested to do so by the initiating agency," the order states.
Requests for troopers to join pursuits can come from officers employed by the initiating agency or through their dispatch centers, the order states.
"Mere notification of the existence of a pursuit shall not be construed as a request for OHP assistance. Members shall not consider a request for assistance from another law enforcement agency as a request to take over their pursuit," it states.
The policy reminds troopers of long-standing OHP policy limiting "caravanning" of more than three OHP vehicles in a pursuit. It states that if the initiating law enforcement agency terminates its involvement in the pursuit due to safety issues, OHP units must also discontinue their involvement.
Thompson met again last week with the Oklahoma State Troopers Association and discussed concerns that troopers had regarding the policy and related issues.
Brown said the special order will improve safety for residents, other agencies and troopers during pursuits involving multiple agencies.
"It's a good policy. It's something we've needed for a long time," West said.
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306
Copyright 2012 - Tulsa World, Okla.