There are major changes coming in the Bexar County Sheriff's Office pursuit policy. Sheriff Javier Salazar said that the district attorney is in the process of reviewing a draft of his revisions.
In January, the sheriff formed the SCOPE team (Sheriff and Citizens Organized for Public Engagement), which is made up of community members and deputies. Sheriff Salazar says that they created a draft with the purpose of making the pursuit policy more clear and concise.
The draft reduced the 14-page document to nine pages. The last revision to the policy was in 2014.
"The old policy was a bit unwieldy, if you will. There were contradictory terms. There was a lot of discussion that doesn't belong in a policy," Sheriff Salazar noted. "We crafted what we now have at the DA's office, is a really good draft policy where we're able to trim some fat from the previous policy we were governed by."
Last week, deputies were involved in several high-speed chases. On Monday, deputies chased a car that was reported stolen on Highway 181. The driver led deputies through a residential neighborhood and the chase ended on I-35 into oncoming traffic. A deputy used a pit maneuver to stop the vehicle.
Two days later, a driver sped off after deputies asked him why he didn't have a front license plate. The chase ended when the suspect slammed into a driver on Loop 410 and East Houston Street. Deputies found cash and drug-related items in the car.
"Thankfully, I don't think anybody was hurt in the case. Somebody could have been and that's certainly, not a chance that I'm willing to take," Sheriff Salazar said. "I can honestly tell you, the end doesn't justify the means. While an officer or deputy's heart is definitely in the right place, they wanna catch the bad guy. They wanna do the right thing. We just need to make sure we're doing it as safely as possible."
The sheriff said that he is not waiting until the draft is finalized. Deputies will begin to implement different tactics to stop a vehicle.
"If we can shut down our lights and sirens, for example, and trail behind a vehicle, that's certainly an acceptable tactic. It may remove that sense of urgency from the suspect," Sheriff Salazar said. "Meanwhile, we may have unmarked vehicles in the process, or a marked unit, hanging out in the back still making sure we're tracking their movements but we're not engaging in a prolonged pursuit."
He added that there will be more responsibility on supervisors to call off pursuits. He also said that the helicopter and other tools like tire deflation devices will be utilized.
"The system that we use deploys little tubes that go into the tire and leave the hole open to let air escape slowly from the tire," he explained.
Sheriff Salazar also said that a change to the policy does not mean that deputies will stop chases altogether. He said that deputies will not chase vehicles for non-hazardous traffic violations like broken tail lights or inspection stickers.
"We will pursue you. We will put you in jail. We're just going to make sure we're doing it as intelligently and as carefully and as safely as we can," Sheriff Salazar said. "The deputies are clear on what the rules of engagement are. We just need to make sure we're adhering to it."
The sheriff hopes that the drafted policy will be finalized by this fall.