Grafton police deviate from countywide pursuit policy

Recent instances of drivers fleeing at high speeds illustrate shift in one department’s rules about chasing them
Ozaukee Press staff

Two recent incidents involving suspects fleeing authorities at high rates of speed through construction zones has called attention to a shift in local police pursuit policies.

For nearly two decades, municipal police departments in Ozaukee County and the Sheriff’s Office have adhered to a policy to only pursue fleeing suspects in cases involving violent crimes or serious felonies where public safety is endangered.

But that changed last fall when Grafton Police Chief Jeff Caponera informed Sheriff Christy Knowles and the county’s other police chiefs that he was instituting a new policy that gives his officers more discretion.

“When I had an opportunity to review the (countywide) policy, I wasn’t a big fan of it,” Caponera said in an interview. “There are different needs in my village than what are covered in that policy.”

Those needs include protecting Grafton’s sizable retail establishments from shoplifters, Caponera said.

“We’re getting hammered with these retail crimes. They are not your run-of-the-mill mom-and-pop shoplifters. These people are coming in organized groups, tormenting our community, tormenting the staff of these stores,” he said.

Recently, a group of people walked out of a Grafton store with $5,000 of products while the store manager was on the phone with the police dispatcher, Caponera said.

“If we don’t show we will do something about it, it’s going to be another San Francisco. When people know there are consequences, they’ll skip us and go  somewhere else.”

The county policy was created in 2005 by local chiefs of police and then-Sheriff Maury Straub after an innocent bystander was killed during a high-speed pursuit in a worthless-check case, Knowles said.

“It’s all about safety,” she said, “for the public, for law enforcement. Do we need to pursue this vehicle if we already know the license plate and the occupant? Just because we don’t pursue doesn’t mean we don’t apprehend the perpetrator. The investigation does not stop when we say don’t pursue.”

The policy helps guide training of officers and provides a uniform way of dealing  with pursuits. Having different policies can create confusion, Knowles said.

Grafton’s change in policy “could create problems, but it hasn’t so far,” she said.

In recent weeks, there were two incidents where suspects fled police at a high rate of speed, one that involved a chase and another that did not.

On April 14, Benjamin Rodriguez Jr., 19, of Hartland, tore through Ozaukee County in his Camaro from Belgium into Milwaukee County, trying to escape authorities trying to stop him.

At one point, Rodriguez, who is charged with multiple felonies, sped down the middle of the southbound lanes of I-43, through a construction zone as work was being done, at speeds that hit 120 mph, according to the criminal complaint filed in Ozaukee County Circuit Court.

An Ozaukee County sheriff’s deputy broke off the chase after just 23 seconds when speeds reached 95 mph.

A Grafton police officer clocked Rodriguez going 120 mph south of Grafton but also broke off the chase when informed construction crews were in the area.

Eventually, authorities were able to contact Rodriguez by phone, and he turned himself in.

A week later, on the night of April 20, a Hartford man sped through the same construction zone, reaching 100 mph, trying to avoid arrest.

Shaun S. Calabrese, 35, was being sought by Germantown police in connection with several retail thefts, a criminal complaint states.

Grafton police officer Patrick Brock spotted Calabrese in the parking lot of the Meijer store parking lot in Grafton but when he approached his car, Calabrese took off and  entered I-43, followed by Brock.

Calabrese zig-zagged through the area until he got off in Milwaukee County at Good Hope Road, driving the wrong way at one point to avoid tire spikes deployed by police.

The chase continued south on Green Bay Road through Glendale and to Capitol Drive, Calabrese having shredded his tires on spikes bringing the car to a stop.

Caponera said Brock made the decision to pursue after Grafton police were informed that Calabrese was part of a group involved “in a lot of felony level crimes.”

Caponera said each pursuit is reviewed by the department’s senior staff.

“Our policy requires officers to think critically and protect the sanctity of life. It’s not a free pass to chase until the wheels come off,” Caponera said. “My policy is to give the discretion back to the officer. It doesn’t prohibit them from engaging in a pursuit as long as it’s reasonable, they can articulate why they engaged in the pursuit and it’s safe.”

Knowles said she, Caponera and other county chiefs of police will discuss the policy this year when it comes time to review it, as they do every other year.

Since he instituted the new policy, Caponera said, there have been eight chases, including a silver alert involving an elderly woman with dementia who was driving slowly but wouldn’t pull over.

No one was injured in any of the pursuits, Caponera said.

Caponera submitted both his policy and the county’s to, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the number of deaths among bystanders and law enforcement.

He said the group liked both policies but found Caponera’s stricter and “better structured.”

Knowles said the issue is becoming more important as the frequency of suspects fleeing has increased.

“We’re seeing more than we’ve ever seen before,” she said.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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