The Oklahoma Highway Patrol released its vehicular pursuit policy on Wednesday, putting the document on its website for public consumption after years of secrecy.
The policy and procedures were updated in February, the 10-page document says. Commissioner of Public Safety John Scully said in a news release that he decided to release the protocol because transparency is a high priority for the agency’s administration.
“The policy requires troopers and supervisors to constantly evaluate the risk of the situation and to make appropriate decisions regarding continuation or discontinuation of the pursuit,” the news release states.
Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Scully as the Department of Public Safety’s commissioner in September.
Through the previous years, former Commissioners Rusty Rhoades and Michael Thompson had denied open records requests from the Tulsa World to release the pursuit policy, or at least a redacted version of it.
In denying the repeated requests, both cited an exemption in Oklahoma’s Open Records Act that applies only to the Highway Patrol that allows it to keep secret documents that are considered tactical in nature.
The Tulsa World was able to acquire the policy in March 2019 from the Cleveland County Court Clerk’s Office after the document was used as a defense exhibit in a felony murder trial in the death of OHP Lt. Heath Meyer during a pursuit.
The news release issued Wednesday says the protocols were developed with the safety of the public, troopers and violators in mind.
The new policy appears to be largely similar to the previous one, but there are notable changes.
Troopers now are prohibited from chasing a vehicle the wrong direction “in four or more lanes of traffic.” Prior policy stated that troopers shouldn’t pursue into opposing lanes of traffic “unless extenuating circumstances” existed.
Tactical vehicle interventions — or TVIs — are prohibited when the pursued vehicle is in an area in which causing it to spin out might create “an immediate threat to other civilian traffic.” Previous policy didn’t outline such a stipulation.
The new policy removes language describing how the chances of serious damage or injury from a TVI increase as speeds become faster because the outcome of the maneuver is less predictable. It states, as before, that the speed of the vehicle is a consideration before performing a TVI.
The new version of the policy adds language to address additional supervisory responsibility, too.
For any pursuit, command staff must close the case as justified and consistent with policy, request a review board’s consideration or take disciplinary action. The previous policy required that only for pursuits involving TVIs.
The new policy also adds a sentence stating that all pursuits will be reported by troopers, reviewed by supervisors and subject to administrative review.
Dispatchers now must prompt troopers in pursuits to relay pertinent information about the chase when feasible to help evaluate the risks. Previously, there was no such requirement for dispatchers, as troopers were expected to relay the information of their own accord.
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