(The Center Square) – The death of two teens as a result of a high-speed police chase in December has spawned an effort to look at ways to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.
A legislative Task Force on Safety for Law Enforcement Officers Involved in High-Speed Chases held its first meeting on Friday to begin examining a variety of factors to reduce the potential for fatalities from police pursuits.
The task force was initiated by Senate Concurrent Resolution 8, sponsored by Sen. Caleb Kleinpeter, R-Port Allen, in response to a New Year’s Eve crash that killed two teens and injured a third. Maggie Dunn, 17, and Caroline Gill, 15, cheerleaders at Brusly High School, died; Liam Dunn, Maggie’s brother, was injured.
The chase involved West Baton Rouge Police officers’ pursuit of a stolen vehicle. Officer David Couthron crashed into the vehicle with the teens. Both Couthron, who worked for the police department in Addis, and the driver that initiated the chase, Tyquel Zanders, 24, were charged with crimes in the incident. Couthron resigned in January and faces six charges at trial March 18.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of law enforcement personnel who are supportive of this resolution because high-speed pursuits are getting out of hand,” said Kleinpeter, who chairs the task force. “What I do not want to do is handcuff law enforcement.”
Data presented by Helmut Schneider, head of Louisiana State University’s Center for Analytics and Research in Transportation Safety, told the task force that out of 906 fatalities and about 68,000 injuries on Louisiana roads in 2022, one involved a police vehicle in emergency operation that caused a fatality while six involved police vehicles resulting in serious injuries.
Schneider said the crash report from the New Year’s Eve wreck did not include a narrative or drawing that typically accompanies the reports, so he was unable to determine the factors involved.
Jason Gill, father of Caroline Gill, described the situation as “a tough deal” because “I don’t want to handcuff any law enforcement from doing the job we expect them to do, but I do expect them to be held accountable.”
Gill discussed some specifics of the pursuit that ended his daughter’s life and says police did not follow multiple procedures, including pursuit policy.
“I think we should define what we pursue for,” he said. “How do we hold law enforcement responsible for holding officers to the policies we have now?”
Randall Dunn, father of Maggie and Liam Dunn, highlighted a variety of technologies and reporting procedures, as well as improved training, that could be utilized to reduce the risk of fatal police crashes.
“I do not think police chases need to stop. There are certain cases where we do need to have pursuit,” he said. “I just think we need to be smart about our pursuits.”
Law enforcement leaders on the task force agreed more should be done to standardize pursuit policies, training and crash reporting, but highlighted how funding from the state plays into those efforts.
Duson Police Chief Kip Judice suggested state law should mandate pursuit analysis following every police pursuit, and “our police reports need to be standardized, as well.”
“I did not hear one bad idea from you guys. Every one of these things need to be looked at and determined,” Judice told parents of the December crash victims. “When it comes to funding … I think this is a priority in the interest of public safety.”
The task force, comprised of law enforcement leaders, lawmakers, and researchers, are expected to meet again in the coming weeks to work toward a series of recommendations for the legislature next session.