At far right, Judy Randle, Albany Area Chamber of Commerce chairwoman, introduces from right, Albany Police Department Chief John Proctor, Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office Col. Mark Shirley and Dougherty County Police Department Chief Don Cheek at the organization’s November lunch with the leaders at the Albany Welcome Center Wednesday.
ALBANY -- A law enforcement information luncheon ended after 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Albany Welcome Center with somber thoughts concerning an Albany Police Department officer's death Friday.
Albany Police Department Officer Terry Lewis-Flemming died Friday after her car collided with another patrol car while she was involved in a pursuit of two armed robbery suspects driving through East Albany.
Brought on by a question from the audience at the end of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce event about police procedures in the pursuit of armed robbers, three law enforcement leaders gave their thoughts.
Nearly choking up, Dougherty County Sheriff's Office Colonel Mark Shirley, who was the first to spot the escaping armed robbers in their blue Tahoe, told how it affected him.
"Your instincts kick in and you want to stop the bad guy," Shirley said. "The chase ensued."
The chase led to Lewis-Flemming's death. It also led to a sleepless Shirley questioning his actions through the weekend, he said.
"Could I have waited for a deputy to arrive and box him in? What did I do right? What did I do wrong? Could I have prevented the loss?" Shirley said. "I spent the whole weekend beating myself up."
Decisions that must be made in an instant have to be made, said Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek.
"We cannot say to them (armed robbers) 'If you run we'll let you go,'" Cheek said. "We take balancing public safety with pursuing criminals very, very seriously. We don't want to hurt our own, members of the community or the bad guys."
In an ironic twist, local law enforcement agencies had scheduled joint training in criminal pursuit for Tuesday and Wednesday this week.
Albany Police Chief John Proctor started his tenure in 2009. Since then he has made changes to improve policing in the city such as a revision of the pursuit policy.
"To protect the community, in April of 2010 I revised the vehicle pursuit policy," Proctor said. "If anything, it is more restrictive to forceful felonies and dictates the officer's and the supervisor's responsibilities. It says when to pursue and when to break it off."
All the law enforcement leaders agreed that there will always be questions when a pursuit leads to harm. There will also be questions if a pursuit is not engaged.
Each official stressed that pursuits are instant decisions happening each and every second of the pursuit. Police do not have the time to review, revise or think out their actions as they chase armed criminals who might injure or kill anyone in the community.