By David Cruz
With two more shooting deaths this weekend, Newark police continue to be challenged by a recent spike in violent crime in the state’s largest city, but now questions arising about police pursuit policies in the wake of a tragedy Friday that claimed a three-year-old, the latest of several recent pursuits that have ended in injuries or deaths.
On Aug. 27, a 79-year-old woman was seriously injured when a car under pursuit near Branch Brook Park slammed into her as she walked her dog.
On Sept. 1, a teenage carjacking suspect bailed during a police pursuit near Hawthorne Avenue School. He died after he was struck by a police cruiser.
On Sept. 2, Fabyan and Nye — two people were injured when a vehicle being pursued by cops crashed into their car.
Then, Friday, near 15th Avenue and South 7th street, a three-year old walking with his mom, was killed when a suspect being chased by police jumps the curb.
Some residents are wondering if it’s time to reexamine the city’s policy on police chases.
“They should make a law where they shouldn’t even be chasing [any] cars,” suggested Newarker Kwan Brown. “You can’t really say whose fault it is, but you know, it’s wrong.”
“It’s a difficult call,” added Debra Lavow. “Every situation is different. The police have got to weigh that and make a decision. Sometimes things happen, terrible things happen.”
It’s with that in mind that the state’s attorney general’s office has issued guidelines that cover when a pursuit should be initiated, and when they should be terminated.
“The officer’s decision to pursue should always be undertaken with an awareness of the degree of risk to which the law enforcement officer exposes himself and others.” says the official policy.
It’s easy to say — particularly in retrospect — that police should break off a pursuit if there’s potential for innocent bystanders to be injured, but like a lot of stuff that police do on the street, it’s not always that simple.
“It’s a very traumatic event. It really is,” said Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale, who, in over 30 years of policing can still remember the details of all his police pursuits. He won’t comment on the Newark pursuits, but says he can relate to the trauma cops feel when innocents are injured or killed during pursuits.
“You have to take a lot of things into consideration,” he said. “You have to take speed, danger, the public, your own safety, the safety of the person you’re chasing. You have to really think of all the different variables, and think about it, it happens in a split second.”
Newark’s police brass was unavailable to talk to us today. Mayor Baraka — who honored some of the cops involved in the Sept. 1 pursuit — was also said to be unavailable today. He issued a statement that said, “This tragedy touches us on so many levels and the loss of young Rahmere is felt in our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities and throughout Newark. The way in which his life was taken is not just a crime against the laws of the land but a crime against humanity.”
All four of the recent pursuits remain under review by the county prosecutor’s Professional Standards Bureau. Meanwhile, community members are expected to attend this week’s city council meeting to call on them to take stronger action.