NewsChannel5 Investigators: Cleveland Police Chief signs off on new chase policy

NewsChannel5 Investigators have learned Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams signed off on a new chase policy that limits when officers can engage in vehicle pursuits.

NewsChannel5 Investigators broke the story on Twitter Wednesday morning.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams will hold a news conference about the revised policy at the Cuyahoga County Criminal Justice Center Thursday at 12:30 p.m.

The policy says officers may only initiate a vehicle pursuit when the suspect "flees apprehension for an alleged violent felony" or in cases involving drunk driving.

The policy says, "the act of fleeing in and of itself is not sufficient cause to engage or continue to engage the fleeing vehicle in a pursuit."

It also states that "no more than two police motor vehicles shall engage in a motor vehicle pursuit" unless specifically approved by the controlling supervisor."

The policy spells out supervisors' roles during a chase, including barring the controlling supervisor from participating directly in a vehicle pursuit.

Jeff Follmer, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association expressed concern about the policy. 

"Every circumstance is different when we chase these vehicles and it's easy to put it on paper, but we have to make split second decisions on these chases. We don't have the time to go back and look and things for days, months, a year and a half later," he said.

Follmer also believes the changes are a response to a November 2012 chase that ended with two people dead.

Cleveland Public Safety Director Michael McGrath told NewsChannel5 the policy review started prior to November 29, 2012, when Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, were killed after leading Cleveland police on a 23-minute chase.  

State investigators found 13 Cleveland police officers fired 137 shots into Russell's Chevy Malibu as the chase ended in the parking lot of Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland.

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's office has been investigating whether the 13 officers' actions were justified.

McGrath said the city will conduct its own review of the shooting after the county prosecutor's investigation is finished.

In October, McGrath announced that of the 104 officers involved in the chase, 63 would be suspended for one to 10 days for excessive speeding, insubordination and failing to get permission to join the pursuit.

The patrol officers are fighting the discipline. City officials said arbitration hearings will be held next spring.

McGrath has placed much of the blame for the incident on a handful of supervisors. In June, he announced that nine supervisors were suspended, two were demoted and one was fired following administrative hearings.

The chase started in downtown Cleveland. A police officer thought he heard a gunshot coming from Russell's car. Investigators later determined the vehicle had backfired.

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