Police chiefs converge on State House to push for bill to allow officers to cross town lines in pursuit of motor vehicle violators

Boston Ma 09/25/2013 Scott M. Livingston (cq) Chief of Police of the Winchendon Police Department looks to get a group picture of the assembled Massachusetts Chiefs of police outside of the State House. The group was having a picture taken before the start of a Public hearing on Massachusetts House Bill (HR-1549). ( Jonathan.Wiggs )Topic:Section:Reporter: Topic: Reporter:
Winchendon Police Chief Scott M. Livingston captured a group picture of the assembled chiefs before the State House hearing.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Dozens of police chiefs converged on the State House today to press for a bill, in the works for 23 years, that would allow them to pursue outside their jurisdiction suspects who have committed motor vehicle infractions

Eighty-six chiefs showed up to testify before the Joint Judiciary Committee, said Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch, who testified in support of the bill with two police chiefs by her side.

In 1990, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that officers could not follow vehicles across town or city lines without probable cause that the person had committed a crime, said Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and a former Shrewsbury police chief.

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The ruling meant that officers could not follow people who were speeding or had committed other motor vehicle infractions across jurisdictional lines, said Peisch, a Democrat of Wellesley.

The proposed bill could prevent drunk drivers from escaping from one community into another, she said.

“It’s a very simple bill,” Sampson said. He believes it hasn’t passed yet because the Legislature “failed to see the impact” it could have on communities.

“We certainly want the Legislature to understand how many communities this affects,” he said. Officers have also had to drop cases where weapons or drugs were found in vehicles after officers had chased the vehicles out of their jurisdiction, he said.

The bill was revised before today’s hearing, said Peisch, because it was previously deemed too vague. Revisions have made it clear that officers are not trying to expand their jurisdiction, but rather simply continue an investigation that started in their jurisdiction, she said.

The committe now will analyze the bill before deciding whether to recommend its passage to the House or to hold it.

Peisch said it was too early to tell what the end result will be, but stressed that the bill has a lot of support, between 68 co-sponsors and the dozens of police chiefs who came today.