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(NECN: Greg Wayland) - Members of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association gathered at the State House in Boston Wednesday to lobby for a change in a decades-old law that they say has a major loophole.
The loophole has to do with pulling over motorists suspected of violations in the event they cross from one police jurisdiction into another.
About 100 police chiefs from across the Commonwealth appeared before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary supporting a bill adjusting a law they say hamstrings them from, among other things, stopping the highway carnage caused by drunk drivers.
"I think what we have a hard time getting across is that this is a public safety issue," Natick, Mass. Police Chief James Hicks says.
They say it's not about chasing obvious drunk drivers that go weaving over the border into the neighboring town and appear bound for deadly trouble. Pursuits like that are not a problem under the law - it's when the officers spot civil violations that turn up bigger things, but they've crossed a town line.
"An officer will see someone driving without headlights or run a stop sign or he'll clock them for speeding and he's just stopping for that minor infraction, but then when he gets to the door, he smells alcohol, the motorist has trouble producing their license or registration and so forth," Norwood Police Chief Bill Brooks says.
But in 1990, the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court ruled that if the offending car has cross the town line, "a police officer had no authority ... to pursue and stop a motorist over the boundary of the officer's jurisdiction in order to deliver a citation for a non-arrestable traffic violation."
"We lose all of the evidence for any crime, whether it be drugs or guns or anything else," Wayne Sampson, Executive Director of the Mass. Chiefs of Police Association, says.
"We're prohibited from even approaching the car door. It's crazy," Chief Brooks says.
The chiefs say the bottom line is, it's a bill, not about the arrest but about being able to complete the traffic stop.
But every other time their legislative sponsors have filed a bill to "fix" the current law, it's been referred for "study" and never made it out of committee -- opposed by, among others, Massachusetts State Police, who apparently fear the issue of expanded and confused jurisdiction.
The case unfolded in 1990 in Natick Chief James Hick's jurisdiction when an officer stopped a car across the line in Framingham.
"I know I've heard it's about expanding jurisdiction for local law enforcement officers. That's not what it's about at all," Chief Hicks says.