Mashpee police released their policy governing police chases, but Police Chief Scott W. Carline said it was too soon for him to discuss last weekend’s crash that killed three people, including a new father who was a former Marine.
Carline said Wednesday the internal investigation into the decision by his officers to initiate a pursuit in the Cape Cod town and then reportedly continue it into Barnstable at speeds that reached 65 miles per hour has not been completed.
“It would be inappropriate for me to comment on an active internal investigation until all the facts have been gathered regarding this incident,” Carline said about the crash, which he has described as a “terrible tragedy.”
Carline wrote that the internal inquiry is exploring whether “the actions of the police officers involved in the pursuit are consistent with the Mashpee Police Department’s policy regarding police pursuits.”
Around midnight on Saturday, an unidentified Mashpee police officer spotted a sedan being driven erratically in the town and attempted to pull the car over. Instead the operator, later identified as Mickey A. Rivera, drove off and was pursued by police at speeds reaching 65 miles per hour, according to police and dispatch recordings by Broadcastify.com.
Rivera caused a head-on crash that killed the 22-year-old Fall River man, his passenger, 24-year-old Joceyln Goyette, and Kevin P. Quinn, a former Marine who served two tours in Afghanistan and who was heading to his Mashpee home after visiting his wife and new daughter at the hospital.
Rivera’s involvement in the crash has raised questions about the criminal justice system and whether it properly handled Rivera, who was arrested on drunk driving charges last month and was free on $1,000 cash bail on charges in connection with a 2015 murder in Fall River.
The chase policy released by Carline mirrors the rules governing pursuits in use by the State Police. Both begin with the same principle: “A vehicular pursuit is authorized when the need to apprehend a suspect fleeing in a motor vehicle outweighs the risk created by the pursuit.”
The policy authorizes a supervisor to cancel the pursuit when “it becomes evident to the officer(s) involved in the pursuit that the risks to life and property outweigh the benefit derived from the apprehension of the occupant(s) or continued pursuit.”
Geoffrey P. Alpert of the University of South Carolina, a leading expert on police pursuits, said police have dramatically changed how they weigh the benefit of chasing suspects in cars through sometimes crowded streets and highways.
“In the 1960s and ’70s, it was basically, ‘Chase until the wheels fall off or chase until someone crashes and hope it’s not you,’ ” he said in a recent interview. “In the ’90s, we started seeing a lot of these pursuit policies changing to be more restrictive. We saw major reductions with lives saved and properties not destroyed.”
In recent decades, there has been a rising national focus on police pursuits. Some departments have started experimenting with technologies like StarChase, in which officers shoot a GPS tracker onto the car instead of continuing the pursuit.
Nationwide, crashes following police chases kill an average of 355 people every year, or about one person every day, according to a 2017 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics on Police Vehicle Pursuits. There is no national or statewide database for police pursuit statistics.
The report found that from 1996 to 2015, police vehicle pursuits resulted in more than 6,000 fatal crashes and more than 7,000 deaths. Of those fatalities, 65 percent were occupants of the vehicle being pursued and 29 percent were occupants of a vehicle not involved in the pursuit.
Using data from 115 agencies tracking from 2009 to 2013, the report found that traffic offenses overwhelmingly accounted for police pursuits. More than two-thirds of all police pursuits resulted from traffic violations such as speeding or reckless driving. Police only pursued suspected violent felons in 9 percent of cases.
The small percentage of violent criminals involved in police pursuits has led some departments to enact restrictive pursuit policies, such as Milwaukee and Orlando.J.D. Capelouto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jdcapelouto. John R. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.