The changes made to LCSO’s pursuit policy

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

Earlier this month, a couple trying to get a head start on traffic ran into what was said to be a street race. Deputies say they were shot by 17-year-old Armando Cruz.

The shooting sparked an outcry from the community and made Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno say he was done playing games.

Picture from the Lehigh Acres shooting. (Credit: Shared with WINK News)

Early last week, he said he was making changes to the pursuit policy, but at the time, no one was 100% sure what that meant until now.

Street racing, intersection takeovers; the Lee County Sheriff’s Office says the activities from Sunday, March 19, that led to the shooting in Lehigh Acres was the last straw.

A couple who just happened upon an intersection got shot inside their pickup truck at a street race event.

The sheriff went on Facebook three days later and said this: “I have amended our pursuit policy effective immediately. What that means is that we immediately are utilizing our helicopter, stop sticks, drones, barricades, all hands-on deck, everything we have to make certain that we win.”

When the sheriff said he was changing the pursuit policy immediately, he did not offer specifics. WINK News asked for copies of the previous policy and the new policy so that we could map out the differences for you.

It took until Monday for the sheriff’s office to fulfill our request and a couple of days for us to review them.

The previous policy, vehicle pursuit policy, said, “Pursuits are justified only when the deputy knows, or has reasonable belief, the suspect has committed a violent forcible felony.”

The new policy adds this: “Or in response to lawless activities that create an unacceptable danger to residents as defined by FS 316.191 related to street racing, ‘Takeovers,’ rioting and traffic infractions. Deputies will not pursue motorcycles involved in street racing relating to infractions of FS 316.191.”

WINK News asked Safety and Security Specialist Rich Kolko for his take on the policy change.

“Now the sheriff has enabled his deputies to make a decision on the street is the activity that they observe a danger to the citizens of the county. It may not reach the status of a felony, but just being dangerous enough to innocent civilians on the streets, the sheriff is going to give his deputies permission to do it. Permission to chase,” said Kolko.

WINK News asked Sheriff Marceno to speak with us about the changes, but his office refused our request.

The new pursuit policy has changed what it takes for a deputy to begin a pursuit, so what does that mean for you?

“He’s lowered that threshold a little bit to some of this street racing activity, which typically isn’t a felony, but is a significant danger to the public. So what he wants to do is allow his deputies to find a way to chase those people when necessary to stop that street racing and make the citizens of lee county safer,” said Kolko.

Kolko said giving deputies more freedom means there may be more high-speed pursuits in Lee County.

“Anybody driving a car, just you need to be aware of your circumstances, you know, simple things, don’t have the headphones on, don’t be concentrating on your phone. If you hear a siren, be prepared as you approach an intersection, be prepared, you know, do everything to keep yourself and your family and those around you safe,” Kolko said.

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