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High-speed pursuit through Gold Hill questioned

GOLD HILL — City Council President Sam Blake says he is concerned about a high-speed police chase Monday through downtown — and the fact that the city can't do much to stop future pursuits.

Blake was standing in his front yard along Second Avenue when a red Pontiac Grand Am driven by wanted felon Casey Nathaniel Brooks sped past with Jackson County sheriff's deputies in hot pursuit.

The cars were traveling at least double the 30 mph speed limit set for the two-lane road, Blake estimated.

The city, which disbanded its police department in June 2008, is reliant on "emergency only" protection from the county and provides an office for sheriff's deputies to handle paperwork and meet with suspects.

Without its own police force, the city also is without policies on certain law enforcement issues.

"We don't have any rules like other cities do about high-speed pursuits," said Blake. "It just seems like it shouldn't be OK to go at such a high rate of speed through a 30-mile-an-hour town with so much foot traffic."

Lodged in Jackson County Jail, Brooks, 31, was caught after crashing near Sams Valley in a pursuit that also included police from Eagle Point and Rogue River, police said.

Jackson County Sheriff's Office deputy James Kocina said apprehending a felon like Brooks, with charges ranging from burglary and manufacturing of methamphetamine to being a felon in possession of a weapon, warranted the pursuit.

Deputies consider a number of variables when deciding whether to pursue a suspect, including road conditions and the number of pedestrians present, he said, adding that deputies slowed their pursuit through Gold Hill due to safety concerns. A helicopter was en route that would have permitted deputies to slow down even more, he said.

"Every agency has their own pursuit policy. Some cities are more restrictive, whereas agencies like the state have a more wide-open policy. It's up to each agency," Kocina said.

"We do have an interagency pursuit agreement that means if we go into other jurisdictions that have their own policies, they can ask, if we were in a pursuit, to discontinue."

Kocina said three pursuits were on record during the past year in Gold Hill, though only Monday's went through downtown.

"Once it was out of Gold Hill it was totally opened back up. It went from 'almost could have been terminated for safety' to being on a roadway with no cars at all," said Kocina, who added that the sheriff's department is in the process of changing its pursuit policy. The present policy involves a decision threshold dubbed the "pursuit matrix." The new policy will center around officer and supervisor discretion, he said.

Blake said he is worried about the safety of pedestrians and the lack of city input on high-speed pursuits through town.

"My big concern was the safety of the whole thing. It wasn't necessary to go that fast because they would have caught him anyway. I'm just glad nobody was hurt."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

High-speed pursuit through Gold Hill questioned