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Lee County Sheriff allowing police pursuits of street racing suspects following Lehigh Acres shooting

Suspect must also pose an "unacceptable danger to residents" before police pursuit
LCSO pursuit policy
Posted at 3:15 PM, Mar 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-27 19:30:47-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Police pursuits in Lee County are changing, specifically who the Lee County Sheriff's Office can chase.

Deputies are now allowed to chase suspects involved in street racing who pose a danger to the community.

The change is in response to a shooting in Lehigh Acres.

An elderly couple was shot at Homestead Road and Milwaukee Boulevard while heading to Key West. At the intersection, Sheriff Carmine Marceno said they encountered a group of 50-100 people, who had planned on street racing.

The elderly couple was confronted by 17-year-old Armando Cruz, according to LCSO.

Cruz is accused of shooting them and taking off. Video from earlier that day showed cars doing donuts at that intersection, among others across the county.

In the new policy targeting street racing, suspects involved in other crimes are now allowed to be pursued by deputies. This includes rioting, traffic infractions, and takeovers.

A takeover is when a group of people or a single person blocks an intersection or stops traffic in order for them to street race, do donuts, wheelies, and more.

For traffic infractions, they also have to pose a danger to the public, such as driving the wrong way on a road.

Dr. David Thomas, a forensics studies professor at Florida Gulf Coast University says there's a place for police pursuits.

"The person fleeing has no regard for public safety," he said.

Thomas believes street racing and takeovers are a danger to the public, and thinks police pursuits are the only way to stop them.

"If you think about it there is no other way because it happens, police are having to intervene in the middle of that," Thomas said.

The professor says if law enforcement can intervene before street racing happens, such as finding out about it on social media first, then that is another way to combat the issue before a pursuit starts.

Fox 4 asked Thomas if there's more risk or reward to police chases when it comes to community safety.

He says there's a chance the public can get hurt and police pursuits are a toss-up. However, when it comes to the crime of street racing, the likelihood is low.

"If you look at street racing most of that occurs at night," Thomas said. "And then if it’s late at night, then the possibility of running into someone the general public, it lessens that possibility."

Deputies do need to take factors into account before pursuing a vehicle such as location, traffic, and what other options are available.

"It's [police pursuits] necessary, but it's necessary with caution," Thomas said. "You have to address the issue."

The policy states deputies are not allowed to chase motorcycles accused of street racing. It also addresses who can chase suspects.

In the old policy, unmarked cars could not be in pursuit, unless under extenuating circumstances.

The new policy states if they have lights and sirens, they can. However, once a deputy's marked car gets there, the unmarked car has to back off and let the deputy take over when it's possible.

The crimes in the new policy are listed under "forcible felony," which includes offenses such as murder, robbery, and kidnapping.

Thomas saw the old policy as standard but says the new policy now clearly defines what a forcible felony is.

If it doesn't meet "forcible felony," a supervisor on shift will determine if a chase can start depending on the risk to the community when it comes to the accused crime and other factors.

"What they’ve done what it looks like is when it comes to the danger to the public, and the danger to life, they have allowed their deputies to do what they need to do in order to intervene," Thomas explained.