The Police Files Project BadgeThe Honolulu Police Department is reviewing its motor vehicle pursuit policy following an investigation by Civil Beat that found many chases start with minor offenses such as stolen cars or traffic violations.

On Wednesday, HPD Interim Chief Rade Vanic told the Honolulu Police Commission that the department’s current pursuit policy aligns with the International Association of Chiefs of Police model pursuit policy.

But he said that he will be reviewing the policy – a decision that comes after Civil Beat’s October investigation found that approximately 32% of chases involved collisions and the majority of HPD pursuits were in response to property crimes or traffic offenses.

“We are currently reviewing our policy as we have done in the past for other policies, like our use-of-force policy, to determine if changes are needed based on current needs and also community expectations,” Vanic told the Police Commission. “I have asked analysts in our IT division to take a closer look at the data that we have and to provide me with an analysis of the data so we can make an informed decision about whether changes are needed to our policy.”

Interim Chief Rade Vanic at the Police Commission Meeting
HPD Interim Chief Rade Vanic said the department’s pursuit policy is being reviewed. Honolulu Police Commission/2021

Michelle Yu, an HPD spokeswoman, told Civil Beat in October that “the (pursuit) policy is not being changed at this time.”

At Wednesday’s Police Commission meeting, Vanic reviewed both the current pursuit policy and IACP’s model policy.

“I know recently it has been suggested that our policy is loose and it doesn’t conform to the model policy recommendations by the IACP,” Vanic said. “I would like to address that claim and also show that our policy is not loose and very much in line with the IACP’s recommendations.”

The IACP’s model policy recognizes four different philosophies when it comes to police pursuits. In “discretionary”policies, officers can decide whether to engage in a pursuit. “Permitted” policies mean pursuits are subject to approval and review from supervisors. “Prohibited” policies forbid any pursuits.

Finally, a “restricted” policy, gaining popularity among police departments, allows officers only to engage in pursuits in specific situations, such as when a violent felony has been committed.

Vanic called the department’s current policy “primarily discretionary,” but said it also falls under the “permitted” philosophy.

“So our policy does fall within one of the philosophies that the IACP discusses,” Vanic said.

Vanic said the department is considering all possibilities for a new policy, including a prohibited policy, although he pointed to potential problems.

“I think if we are going to do a full review, we shouldn’t take any of the possibilities off the table,” Vanic said. “I can tell you that, based on national studies, though, there are definitely issues with completely prohibiting pursuits … While I wouldn’t completely not consider it, those are considerations that we need to take into mind when reviewing our policy.”

Vanic said he would “definitely consider” explaining any policy changes to the Police Commission once a decision is made.

IACP discourages pursuits for minor violations. However, the vast majority of police chases on Oahu are triggered by either a property crime or a traffic violation, according to HPD year-end analyses of motor vehicle pursuits.

The most recent review found that just 14% of police pursuits looked at by the Pursuit Review Board last year were for felony offenses other than a stolen vehicle — a crime that led to approximately 45% of all chases. A third of chases reviewed last year began with traffic violations.

According to an analysis of more than 140 HPD pursuit reports obtained by Civil Beat between 2017 and 2019, nearly a third of chases involve some sort of collision, and injuries were documented in over 42% of pursuit-related collisions.

Vanic did not address the HPD’s pursuit-related crash rate or the types of crimes that have led to pursuits.

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