NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk City Council has preliminarily approved allowing police to again engage in high-speed pursuits in order to arrest someone driving a stolen car.

The move is a reversal from the current policy City Council ordered just last June, which only permits high-speed police chases for suspects accused of causing serious injury or death to another or displayed a handgun in a crime.

On Tuesday, Police Chief Larry Boone requested City Council amend the pursuit policy he referred to as “one of the most restrictive in the state,” in order to help the department combat an increase in car thefts. He said while he understands the policy was put into place in the name of police reform — following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police — 18 months has revealed a lot.

“We as an organization, we embrace police reform,” Boone said. “But I think we might have overreached to some degree.”

Boone said currently, when officers see a stolen car, they will attempt to commence a traffic stop. But too often, the suspect vehicle will speed away as the officer approaches. Because of the policy, that often ends the encounter.

“They are playing grab-butt with our officers,” Boone told council. “That defeats their morale … [criminals] are telling folks … coming from neighboring cities … ‘Norfolk will not chase you.’ That has been the growing narrative for 18 months now.”

Violent crime is trending up in Norfolk in 2021. In the month of July, nearly a dozen children and teens were shot. Members of the community are demanding change.

Boone believes that could start with being more aggressive in recovering stolen vehicles.

Boone said starting last August, his department began seeing a trend with the number of stolen vehicles and shootings.

A graph showing stolen and recovered vehicles in Norfolk compared with shootings (Courtesy: City of Norfolk)

Frequently, he said guns are found in stolen vehicles and stolen vehicles are used to commit drive-by shootings.

Boone said officers would still not be given free rein to start pursuits. Police supervisors would still make that call.

“Officers must balance the seriousness of the situation and the importance of law enforcement’s objective against the hazards to safety and welfare of citizens and police personnel involved,” Boone said.

City Council unanimously approved the chief’s request to start altering the pursuit policy, however still wants answers on other ways the chief expected to address crime.

The chief outlined 41 officers have now been deployed to crime “hotspots” in the city and traffic has been closed off in the 700-800 blocks of Granby street to help curb recent violence in the Neon District.

Several City Council members wanted to know what else police felt was “holding them back” in doing their jobs, so Mayor Kenny Alexander asked for a more comprehensive look.

“Look at the current policies that may be restrictive and what practices are there and what procedures that we can improve upon so you can bring something back, so some of the questions we have can be answered,” Alexander said.

Boone continued to emphasize as he often does that police can’t fix the problem alone, but he said right now “they are fighting with one hand tied behind their back.”

“Right now, the only measure that we can take as a body that will have impact is pursuing stolen cars,” Boone said. “The minute they realize we aren’t going to tolerate that, they’ll take their business elsewhere.”

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