NewsLocal NewsI-Team

Actions

Police pursuits: 4 out of every 5 departments in Cincinnati area allow high-speed chases of nonviolent suspects

I-Team reviewed more than 50 pursuit policies
Posted: 7:10 PM, Mar 17, 2022
Updated: 2022-03-17 19:11:38-04
Gayle and Ray Laible were killed in Aug. 2020 outside a Newport cafe when a suspect fleeing police crashed his car into them

CINCINNATI — Four out of every five police departments in the Cincinnati area allow their officers to initiate high-speed vehicle pursuits of fleeing nonviolent suspects.

That's just one of the findings of a WCPO 9 I-Team review of more than 50 local police department vehicle pursuit policies.

Seven of the 53 departments — Cincinnati, Fairfield, Erlanger, Woodlawn, Mt. Healthy, University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University — limit vehicle pursuits to 'violent' felony suspects. Cincinnati added that restriction last month.

"We are going to take the necessary steps to mitigate the risk revolving around vehicle pursuits," Cincinnati interim police chief Teresa Theetge said Wednesday during a news conference.

Cincinnati Interim-Police Chief Teresa Theetge
Cincinnati Interim-Police Chief Teresa Theetge

Many police chiefs and sheriffs, though, said they believe the policies limiting pursuits to violent felony suspects are too restrictive and put the public at greater risk.

"I believe that society expects us to make an effort to stop a person who just committed negligent homicide, which is a first-degree misdemeanor," Blue Ash Police Chief Scott Noel wrote in an email responding to the I-Team's questions. "If my officers observed a negligent homicide, I would certainly expect them to take action and they would be violating a policy that said felony or serious felony."

Middletown and Colerain Township policies restrict vehicle pursuits to individuals wanted for misdemeanor and felony crimes of violence.

Many departments require officers observe reckless actions that present a public safety threat that outweighs the danger of pursuit before initiating a vehicle pursuit. But previous I-Team investigations found that many departments give officers a great deal of discretion in what can be considered 'reckless' and officers rarely receive serious consequences like suspensions for violating department policy in high-speed pursuits that end in crashes injuring or killing people.

In all policies, departments warn about the danger of vehicle pursuits and provide a list of things officers should consider before pursuing a vehicle, including weather conditions, traffic and the offender's alleged crime.

Screenshot from Norwood police body camera video shows a two-vehicle crash that ended a police pursuit
Screenshot from Norwood police body camera video shows a two-vehicle crash that ended a police pursuit

Four out of every five departments allow officers to ram the fleeing vehicle with their police cars in the most extreme situations where police can justify the use of 'deadly force.'

Those policies also repeatedly warn about the dangers of ramming vehicles and stationary roadblocks, which require the approval of supervisors and, in many cases, can be used only by officers who have received extensive training in those areas.

Thirty police departments prohibit officers from driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

All department policies the I-Team reviewed have a process for reviewing vehicle pursuits. That usually includes one or more supervisors reviewing video of the pursuit and interviewing officers. Some departments have several levels of review.

Many departments have annual reports analyzing vehicle pursuits from the previous year.

The I-Team's review of recent vehicle pursuit reports and pursuits examined in our previous investigations show officers often terminate pursuits for many reasons, including losing eye contact with the suspect's vehicle or just being uncomfortable with the speed and road conditions.

Some departments tell their officers they have the right to terminate a pursuit for any reason without facing consequences.

Most departments allow officers to pursue vehicles into another state, sometimes for minor offenses.

The recurring message in each pursuit policy is that officers need to always put safety first and balance the risk of letting the suspect go to the danger of continuing the pursuit, especially in areas where more people are at risk.

A victim's story

Angela Laible Endress says the last year and a half of her life has been "hell."

"There are days when I still don't get out of bed," Endress said.

Her 'hell' began on Aug. 7, 2020, after a suspect in a police pursuit crashed into her parents, Ray and Gayle Laible, killing them.

The Laibles were eating outside a cafe in Newport.

"I've been in therapy for the last year and a half because of this," Endress said. "I'm afraid someone's going to run me down because it happened to my parents."

Angela Laible Endress' parents, Ray and Gayle Laible, were killed in 2020 by a car driven by a suspect fleeing Cincinnati police
Angela Laible Endress' parents, Ray and Gayle Laible, were killed in 2020 by a car driven by a suspect fleeing Cincinnati police

The pursuit started in Lower Price Hill, where officers with an ATF task force were conducting surveillance on a suspect, Mason Meyer.

Officers followed Meyer downtown and across the Roebling Bridge into Covington. They went the wrong way on a one-way street.

Then, Meyer crashed, killing the Laibles and seriously injuring another couple, Steven and Maribeth Klein.

The Klein and the Laible families are suing the City of Cincinnati, the CPD officers involved in the pursuit and Meyer, who is now serving a life sentence in prison for killing the Laibles.

"The police officers were still never held accountable for what they did with their actions," Endress said. "They need to pay for their actions because my parents are dead."

An internal CPD investigation found the officers involved in the pursuit violated department policy, but only one officer, Sgt. Tim Lanter, received a reprimand. Lanter, the lead officer on the pursuit, was later promoted to Lieutenant.

The lawsuit is pending in federal court.

Weighing the risk of restricting vehicle pursuits

In Springboro, a small town along I-75 in Warren County, police officers are experiencing a dramatic surge in vehicle pursuits.

Springboro officers were involved in five vehicle pursuits in 2019. In 2021, the department's officers participated in 33 vehicle pursuits. That's a 560% increase in just two years.

"We're finding a boldness in criminal drivers in recent years that I haven't seen in my career," Springboro Police Chief Jeff Kruithoff said. "We just can't walk away from an interaction with a citizen when we're trying to hold them responsible for a violation of the law even though it's a traffic law."

Springboro Police Chief Jeff Kruithoff
Springboro Police Chief Jeff Kruithoff

Kruithoff said two weeks ago one of his officers clocked a top speed of 121 miles an hour at 2:30 a.m. chasing a suspected stolen vehicle into Dayton on I-75.

"I'm not comfortable with that speed on a regular basis," Kruithoff said.

But Kruithoff added that if an officer is on a wide-open stretch of highway and is trying to "close the gap" with a suspect's vehicle, he doesn't consider it to be a major concern. He's also not overly concerned about the judgment of his officers because in one-third of the pursuits last year, Kruithoff said the officers terminate the pursuit based on their own concerns about safety.

About 40 miles southwest of Springboro, Mt. Healthy Police Chief Vince is taking a much different approach to vehicle pursuits.

Mt. Healthy officers are only allowed to initiate pursuits of fleeing violent felony suspects, among other restrictions that place limitations on the town's officers not seen in many other communities.

"So what we've undertaken here is risk mitigation maybe to an extreme," Demasi said.

Mt. Healthy Police Chief Vince Demasi
Mt. Healthy Police Chief Vince Demasi

His effort to reduce risk is based partly on the fear of damages the city could face if the department had fewer restrictions, and one of their officers was involved in a deadly vehicle pursuit.

"If my officers made even the slightest miscalculation and we got involved in an auto accident, the litigation that would spawn from that would bankrupt us as a community," Demasi said.

One pursuit policy for all?

The Hamilton County Association of Chiefs of Police recently shared a draft 'template' vehicle pursuit policy with chiefs in the more than 40 departments in the county.

The template, which is available in the section of this story containing department policies, would be more restrictive for most police departments and would prohibit pursuing suspects only for refusing to stop for minor traffic violations.

The process included input from the community and many discussions among police officials during the last year.

Some departments, including Newtown, have committed to using it. Others, including Springfield Township, will not.

"With 40-plus agencies in this county there is no way to make this 'standard,'” Blue Ash Police Chief Scott Noel wrote in his email to the I-Team.

Noel headed up the HCACP committee responsible for coming up with the template.

"There was no resistance from the chiefs to be more restrictive," Noel wrote. "If anything, it was the opposite."