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Thursday, February 6, 2003

High-Speed Police Chases on Agenda

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE The House on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill to require better training and policy measures on high-speed police chases.
    The bill (HB 30), which the House approved on a 66-0 vote, now goes to the Senate.
    Rep. John Heaton, a Carlsbad Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the measure was needed to prevent deaths resulting from high-speed police pursuits.
    Heaton cited the high-profile deaths of Lloyd Aragon and Manoa Jojola, which he called "very tragic events."
    Aragon, a State Police officer, was killed near Grants in 2001 after being struck by a truck fleeing police.
    Jojola, a student at Albuquerque Academy, died in 2000 after a car being chased by police broadsided his pickup at the intersection of Pan American Freeway and San Mateo NE in Albuquerque.
    "We have to have this kind of legislation and this kind of deterrent," Heaton said.
    Heaton's bill would require new law enforcement officers to undergo at least 16 hours of training in high-speed pursuits. Veteran officers would be required to undergo at least four hours of such training.
    The bill, which would take effect July 1, would require each New Mexico law enforcement agency to develop a high-speed pursuit policy.
    In addition, the measure would make "aggravated fleeing" from a law enforcement officer a fourth-degree felony. Evading an officer currently is a misdemeanor.
    Rep. Ken Martinez, a Grants Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Aragon's death showed the need for cracking down on people who flee law enforcement officers.
    "It was very sad, and the danger of these things, I think, does rise to the level of a felony offense," Martinez said.
    Martinez also said the measure would not prove burdensome for law enforcement agencies because many of them already require officers to undergo high-speed pursuit training.