SIERRA VISTA — Earlier this week, a Cochise County Sheriff’s deputy responding to a call of a shooting in Whetstone collided with another car. The impact prompted the deputy’s SUV to flip over several times. The deputy, Troy Haymore, sustained a head injury and facial lacerations. The driver of the other car was not injured.
The accident, which occurred on Highway 90 near Airport Road, is under investigation by Sierra Vista Police.
Following that incident, the Herald/Review asked the Sierra Vista Police Department and the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office what their policies are when an officer/deputy is pursuing another vehicle and/or responding to an emergency situation.
Sierra Vista Police:
Pursuit Policy: “The pursuit policy is part of emergency vehicle operations but is a unique circumstance. Officers are authorized to pursue with the provision that they balance the nature of the offense giving rise to the pursuit versus the safety of the public, themselves, and the offender.
Under no circumstances is an officer to pursue based solely on civil traffic violations. The policy also provides for a supervisor or senior officer to terminate the pursuit. Additionally, if the pursuing officer feels the pursuit is unsafe, the policy protects him or her from reprimand for ending the pursuit.”
Emergency Driving Policy: “As to SVPD policies on emergency driving, officers are allowed by policy and by Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) to disregard traffic laws, such as speed limits and traffic control devices when responding to an emergency call, but are required to do so with due regard to safety and are specifically NOT released from liability when such driving results in a collision. Emergency driving in that context means driving with lights and siren activated, as required by the ARS. The law that allows this is ARS 28-624.”
“One way to explain this is the example of disregarding a red light. An officer approaching a red light with his lights and siren activated, may proceed through the light without stopping, only to the extent he can do so safely. If that means the officer must slow down to fully assess cross traffic, then that is acceptable. If the officer must stop, and then slowly cross the intersection ensuring that no car is coming from the other street unseen, then that is what is required.”
Cochise County Sheriff’s Office:
Pursuit Policy: The Sheriff’s Office defines a pursuit as “an active attempt by a deputy, operating an authorized emergency vehicle, to apprehend a suspect in another vehicle.”
The policy states: “Vehicle pursuits shall only be initiated when a deputy has reason to believe that the occupant of the fleeing vehicle has been involved in a felony offense against persons (for example, homicide, sexual assault, aggravated assault or robbery) or is likely to endanger human life or cause serious injury to another unless apprehended without delay.
Pursuits for traffic offenses (including unlawful flight) non-violent felonies, property crimes (whether felony or misdemeanor) and suspicious activities, are prohibited.
The pursuit will be terminated if: “The supervisor terminates it; when in the opinion of the deputy operating the primary or secondary unit, or of the pursuit supervisor, the danger to the public or other peace officers outweighs the need for the immediate apprehension of the suspect(s), based on the totality of the circumstances involved; when the distance between the pursuit vehicle and the suspect vehicle is so great that further pursuit is futile.
Also, “if the deputy is unfamiliar with the area of the pursuit and is unable to accurately notify the dispatcher of the location and direction of travel; if the deputy determines he or she is driving beyond his/her capability or beyond the capability of his/her vehicle; if the pursuit requires the deputy to drive on the wrong side of any divided roadway or one-way street.”
Emergency Driving Policy: The Sheriff’s Office defines an emergency as: “A situation where a deputy is dispatched or responding to a life-threatening situation or a violent crime in progress. This does not include routine traffic stops or other routine activities.”
The policy allows: “The operation of an authorized emergency vehicle with the use of lights and siren as authorized by Arizona law, in response to an emergency, at a speed above the posted speed limit and/or in disregard of traffic control devices governing the movement of motor vehicles.”
But, the policy also says, “While state law permits deputies to disregard traffic laws while engaged in emergency driving, the exemption from government and personal liability that is provided by statute, may be lost if a deputy is negligent by acting in a manner that could reasonably have been anticipated to result in harm. Deputies shall exercise due care for the safety of others when engaged in emergency vehicle operations.”