Police say pursuing policies differ from one agency to the next

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Police agencies and individual officers wrestle with the question of whether to chase a fleeing vehicle every day, knowing the stakes of their decisions can be high. Policies vary widely from one department to another.

It happens all the time: Officer goes to stop a suspect. Suspect takes off. "Do you pursue? Do you not pursue? Do you chase? Do you not chase? That's what makes them so hard," said Sgt. Jeff Nigbur, spokesman for the Utah Highway Patrol.

In virtually every situation, something bad -- even deadly -- can happen, with supporters of victims and suspects often wondering if police made the right call.

"They could have just followed them instead of chasing them down as if they were, you know, Jesse James or something. It wouldn't have happened. The police department handled it wrong," said Eddie Mora, grandfather to one of the suspects involved in a deadly accident following a police chase Wednesday night.

A spokesman for the Salt Lake City Police Department tells us its officers chase "only under certain, limited conditions."

The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office says its deputies pursue under "fairly strict parameters."

The Ogden Police Department says only when the case involves a felony will they pursue. "It's a constant balance for us between accomplishing the mission that a police department has in protecting its citizens against risk, and it's a constant balance. If this was easy to do, I guess anyone could do it," said Ogden Assistant Police Chief Randy Watt.

All of the departments we spoke with say chases are often called off when police believe the public is at risk. Factors they consider include traffic, the general attitude of the suspect and weather.

Still, the danger is always there. In fact, Ogden had a chase four years ago similar to Wednesday's deadly chase, with police calling off pursuit just before a terrible collision. Two people were killed; the two suspects running away from police survived.

"It's a nightmare. If things like this happen, if people get killed and people get hurt, it's a nightmare," Nigbur said.

This subject is one of hot debate within the law enforcement world. In fact, it's so sensitive spokesmen for some agencies declined to talk to us for this story on camera, not wanting to be seen as second-guessing another police department.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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