Minn. Police Department Relaxes Strict Vehicle-Pursuit Policy

May 9, 2024
The Apple Valley Police Department loosened what was one of the most restrictive vehicle-chase policies after seeing a "sharp increase" in the number of suspects fleeing from officers.

Apple Valley police officers can now chase cars connected to suspects of many felonies, ranging from burglary to sexual assault, after loosening what was one of the most restrictive vehicle-pursuit policies in the metro area.

The south metro department made the shift after seeing a "sharp increase" in the number of vehicles fleeing from officers, a March 14 city memo said.

"In 2020, we had placed some very restrictive guidelines in our pursuit policy for a variety of reasons," Apple Valley Police Chief Nick Francis said. "Essentially, if it was a deadly force incident or someone needed to be captured immediately ... that was the only authorization our department had for engaging in a pursuit."

That policy, written after George Floyd's murder, was adopted at a time when the department saw an increase in people fleeing police. The department wanted to reconsider pursuits, which were seen as risky or dangerous to public safety, Francis said.

But several years later, those restrictions reduced the liability of pursuits but "did not appear to be positively impacting overall public safety," he said, citing increased numbers of car thefts in particular.

According to Apple Valley police, the number of cases where a driver fled officers in the suburb has more than doubled since 2019, and reached a high of 37 in 2021.

The newly revised policy was also influenced by a couple incidents where a suspect fled and later committed a violent crime, he said. In one instance, Francis said, a vehicle stolen in Apple Valley that fled police was connected to a shooting in Minneapolis later that night.

Francis said under the 2020 policy, residents sometimes called police for help only to have officers watch a suspect drive away.

"The public is saying, 'Hey, what gives? We're calling you for help as the victim of a crime. We're expecting that the police are going to help us,'" he said.

Rules still apply to pursuits

Francis said that the new policy still includes rules officers must follow. For instance, police couldn't chase a vehicle in a school zone or into oncoming traffic, he said.

Pursuing suspects of certain crimes, like a theft or felony forgery, requires a supervisor's permission. And officers must consider where the pursuit may lead, given that the city has one of the busiest intersections in the state at County Road 42 and Cedar Avenue — which increases the potential for dangerous crashes.

But officers can initiate a pursuit on their own when the vehicle fleeing is tied to certain crimes, including homicide, aggravated assault, sexual assault, and aggravated robbery.

Apple Valley's policy is still more restrictive than one approved in January by the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Board, which sets more than a dozen model policies on topics ranging from drone use to racial profiling.

Mike Monsrud, assistant executive director of the POST Board, said the revised policy offers more details about officers' responsibilities in a pursuit, with many reminders to balance risks with the seriousness of the alleged offense and need for immediate apprehension.

The new policy's approach was influenced by a couple high-profile police pursuits several years ago that ended in deadly crashes, Monsrud said.

Minnesota law enforcement agencies must adopt a policy that's identical or "substantially similar" to the POST policy, though the POST policy doesn't restrict departments' ability to pursue vehicles — those are agency-level decisions, Monsrud said.

"Some agencies have no restrictions and their officers can engage in a pursuit of any vehicle that flees from them," Monsrud said. "[Others] are very restrictive on when they allow the officers to engage in a pursuit."

What do other cities do?

Minneapolis police crafted a new policy last year, allowing officers to chase fleeing suspects involved in certain firearm-related offenses, including pointing or discharging a weapon at someone. The revision was a response to increased gun violence.

Francis described Apple Valley's new policy as similar to one in Lakeville.

Lakeville Police Chief Brad Paulson said the city's policy was written in early 2021, adding that the previous version made pursuits "totally discretionary by the officer."

"We have gone to a probably middle-of-the-road approach," Paulson said, adding that it relies on common sense and checks and balances.

Lakeville's policy allows for chases if a violent crime is involved or if the pursuit is authorized by a watch commander. Once a pursuit ensues, an officer can end it at any time, he said.

Officers "definitely see more cars take off than we pursue," he said.

"We always have to weigh the public risk factor and we certainly don't want anybody to get hurt in these things," he said.


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