The people grant government enormous power. In return, government must be transparent in how that power is used.

A damaged 2002 Ford pickup towing a U-Haul trailer sits beside the southbound lanes of the Maine Turnpike on Jan. 12 after the driver led police on a high-speed chase from Kennebunk to York, according to Maine State Police. The pursuit ended when the driver crashed near mile marker 4. The traffic backup caused by the chase led to a collision that killed a Falmouth couple. Maine State Police photo

The Maine State Police did not live up to their end of that bargain last week when they refused to release the agency’s policy governing the pursuit of suspects, a day after a high-speed chase that covered 24 miles of interstate and ended with three officers hurt, two cruisers damaged and two bystanders dead.

If the public cannot see the pursuit policy, then they cannot know whether it was followed, last week or at any other time. We cannot judge the policy on its merits, and if necessary, seek changes.

Without all the information, the public – and the media – cannot hold police accountable, and they cannot properly understand what occurred Jan. 12.

It began in the afternoon when a state trooper parked along the Maine Turnpike in Arundel attempted to pull over David Stoddard of Topsham, who was driving erratically. Stoddard, behind the wheel of a large white pickup truck with a U-Haul trailer, did not stop, and the trooper gave pursuit.

The chase reached speeds of 110 mph. According to an audio recording of police scanner traffic, Stoddard appeared to have blood on his hands. As Stoddard weaved through traffic, police said, he threw tools and other debris at the trooper’s cruiser. He finally crashed at the Kittery-York border.


The chase and ensuing crash backed up traffic on both sides of the turnpike. On the northbound side, the driver of a tractor-trailer failed to stop for the slowing traffic and slammed into the back of a car, forcing the car into the trailer of the truck in front of it. The two people in the car, Geoffrey and Elizabeth Gattis of Falmouth, were killed instantly.

Reacting to such an incident requires officers to make a series of quick decisions. Guiding them in those choices should be their department’s policy on pursuits, one of a dozen essential policies required by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

For instance, the police academy’s model policy on pursuits, which provides the minimum rules that each law enforcement agency in Maine must follow, spells out when high-speed chases are appropriate and what methods can be used to end a chase.

When initiating a chase, according to the five-page policy, an officer should consider a number of factors, including the seriousness of the offense, the known information on the subject and the location and traffic density.

Without the state police’s policy in hand, the public cannot make a judgment on whether it is the right way to keep people safe. We can’t tell whether following the policy contributed in any way to prolonging the chase, or whether officers need more training or additional resources. We can’t tell whether changes are necessary to make it less likely that a chase will end badly.

State police say releasing the policy could endanger officer safety or disclose investigative techniques.

Yet the Maine Criminal Justice Academy model policy is public. Portland police released its pursuit policy when asked as well, as have other departments. The pursuit policy for Massachusetts State Police, to name one, is available online.

In that light, the Maine State Police look far too cautious – and too reflexively secretive.

When you are doing the people’s business, you do not have that luxury.

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