Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher defended his decision to pursue a stolen vehicle through St. Paul’s East Side Wednesday night, an episode that was broadcast live to his Facebook page.
The nearly 20-minute chase ended in a parking lot on the 1400 block of E. Minnehaha Avenue, where 26-year-old Luiz Miguel Reyes was arrested on charges of auto theft and fleeing the police. In the video, Fletcher said that Reyes is a parole violator and has a history of gang affiliation.
Fletcher was criticized by some local leaders for initiating the potentially hazardous pursuit, which included two wrong-way trips down a one-way street, the Star Tribune reported this week. The sheriff started broadcasting his nightly shifts earlier this year in a Facebook show he calls “live on patrol.”
The St. Paul Police Department’s pursuit policy requires officers to end pursuits if a driver goes the wrong way on a one-way street and consider whether “the pursuit itself would create a more hazardous condition than if no pursuit occurred.” Additionally, St. Paul’s policy allows officers to pursue a vehicle only if the driver has committed a violent felony, is about to commit one, or is driving recklessly.
Fletcher, however, said the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office “does allow pursuit of stolen vehicles as long as the risk doesn’t become severe.”
“Every police department in Minnesota has their own pursuit policy to guide their officers. Some are more restrictive than others but all of them stress the public safety balance between the safety of citizens and the benefit of arresting the suspect. Every officer must constantly weigh the dangers posed by the pursuit. In many cases it may become necessary to terminate a chase,” Fletcher said in a statement Friday.
He said the dramatic increase in carjackings across the Twin Cities could be due in part to “criminals’ awareness that in some jurisdictions police officers are not allowed to pursue suspects.”
“We know from talking to suspects that they are aware that some officers are not allowed to chase vehicles. They believe as long as they flee in a car they will get away. This belief has emboldened the criminal element in our community to commit more crime. Until we change that criminal mindset, we have no chance of reducing crime,” said Fletcher. “Our policy at the Sheriff’s Office is based on decades of police experience, knowledge and the current expectations of our Ramsey County residents.”
The Ramsey County Deputy Sheriff’s Federation responded to “misleading” reports from Fox 9 and the Star Tribune in a Friday statement.
“Deputy sheriffs have legal jurisdiction inside all of Ramsey County; including inside the Saint Paul city limits. When Ramsey County deputies take enforcement action of any kind, including pursuits, they are bound only by our department’s internal policies. Deputies, also, take into account additional risks to public safety. It is irresponsible for the media to imply otherwise,” the statement said.
“Instead of condemning the law enforcement officers still fighting crime, the media and our county board members should focus more on the dramatic increase in crime and holding the criminals accountable for committing those crimes,” it added.