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It took 137 bullets, 62 police cars, 22 minutes, 13 shooting officers and two fatalities to end the police chase of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.

Cleveland police officers began pursuing the light blue 1979 Chevy Malibu carrying the pair at about 10:30 p.m. on November 29, 2012. Authorities suspected the two were involved in drug activity and at some points, the car is believed to have backfired, causing several officers to think shots were being fired at authorities. Police did not find a gun in the car and those close to the pair say they don't know why Russell didn't stop the car. In the end, Russell, 43, the driver, was shot 23 times and passenger Malissa Williams, 30, was shot 24 times.

Now, two years later, a debate ignited by the deaths of Russell and Williams is spreading across the country as violent deaths and injuries cause authorities to rethink chase strategies. In Cleveland and in cities nationwide, many experts, police departments and everyday citizens are questioning how and when police officers should conduct such pursuits.

While chases have gone on for decades, mounting concerns about public safety, police liability and excessive force claims are fueling policy changes that have come to states like Florida, Kansas and California. This year, the Cleveland police department adopted a restrictive police chase policy: officers can only chase those suspected of a violent felony or driving while intoxicated. The move is part of growing national trend among departments to limit chases, experts say.

"Police pursuits are highly volatile situations and people make mistakes," said Ken Novak, a criminal justice professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who has studied police decision making and discretion for more than 20 years. "No one is going to argue that fleeing from the police is not wrong. However, it's the police's responsibility to make sure both their officers as well as the public remain safe while they are doing their job."

  • In Oakland, Calif., starting this past January, officers can only chase those suspected of violent forcible crimes, crimes involving the use or possession of firearms or suspects who may have a firearm.
  • That same month, the St. Petersburg Police Department changed its policy and barred officers from pursuing anyone other than people suspected of violent felonies.
  • Kansas City, Kan. officers can now only pursue a driver if there is "probable cause to believe the violator has committed a felony, or misdemeanor, or traffic violation," according to an April policy change.

Every chase comes with the risk of hurting innocent bystanders and destroying property in accidents. While concern about chases have gone on for decades, in the last few years, more and more departments have been reacting to such incidents by changing the rules officers follow, experts say.

About 35%-40% of all police chases end in crashes, said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina who has studied police pursuits since the 1980s. Officers also become filled with adrenaline and can possibly find themselves using excessive force once they catch their suspects.

"They are trained to de-escalate the situation," Novak said of pursuing officers. "They can only apply physical force that's proportional to the amount of threat. But, human nature and adrenaline make that more difficult."

In Cleveland, Prosecutor Timothy McGinty has decided that at least one officer applied force far beyond what was needed that night in 2012.

Officer Michael Brelo is 30 facing two counts of manslaughter. Brelo jumped on the hood of Russell's car and fired several rounds into Russell and Williams, after a ceasefire had been established, McGinty said.

Last month, Brelo was indicted along with five supervisors who were charged with criminal dereliction of duty for failing to control the chase.

"It's a signal to officers that they need to follow the law and they are not in and of themselves the law, the judge and the jury," said David Malik, a Cleveland civil rights attorney who is representing the Williams family in a civil suit.

The suit, which also includes the Russell family, has been filed against the officers involved in the shooting and the city of Cleveland for "gratuitous, excessive, and objectively unreasonable force" that caused an uncontrolled, deadly chase.

Malik says Cleveland's police department has a troubled history and needs to work harder to understand community needs.

After the deaths of Russell and Williams, several activists in Cleveland claimed the shootings were part of a larger problem of officers racially profiling blacks in the city. Authorities deny the claims.

The officers' supporters have also come together to counter angry community leaders. This month, about 100 fellow police officers attended a court hearing to back the six who all pleaded not guilty to their charges, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Patrick D'Angelo is the attorney for the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association and is representing officerBrelo.

"In this particular case, the officers did the best that they could," he said. "These events were happening in rapidly changing circumstances."

D'Angelo says if things were done incorrectly during the chase, the actions do not rise to the level of being criminal. Instead, the attorney said the department should focus on what he says was a lack of training and preparation for the type of pursuit that occurred.

"Sometimes things happen," he added. "The question is whether you are now going to destroy the lives of six officers."

Russell's sister, Michelle Russell, however is haunted by the fact that her brother's life was not only destroyed but ended.

She said her brother had drugs problems but also had long periods of sobriety, went to church regularly and made a living installing tubs and tiles. She isn't sure why he didn't stop for officers the night he died. At the time of his death, Timothy Russell was unemployed and homeless, his sister said.

Russell had been arrested a number of times for several offenses including robbery, criminal trespassing, possession of drug abuse instruments and driving under the influence. His criminal history also included arrests for fleeing from the police on multiple occasions.

"Whatever he did that night, it didn't warrant a death sentence," Russell, 44, said.

She said she thinks the other 12 officers who shot at her brother should also be indicted.

It's a sentiment echoed by Renee Robinson, Williams' cousin.

"All of them need to be punished for what they did," Robinson, 42, said. "They (Russell and Williams) were scared. People get scared and do stupid stuff and keep running. But, nobody would think you would shoot them up that many times."

Williams was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. She was also homeless and often asked family members for cash. But her loved ones insist Williams wasn't violent.

Police had arrested Williams multiple times for felony drug possession as well as for kidnapping, attempted abduction and rape.

Toxicology reports found that both Russell and Williams had consumed cocaine--likely within six hours of the chase and shooting. Police also found a crack pipe and two lighters in the Chevy Malibu.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the pursuit and deaths of the pair was because of a "systemic failure."

He said, "Command failed. Communications failed. The system failed."

Such sentiments are motivating officers to look into their pursuit policies. The nation's 18,000 police departments review their policies regularly and that more restrictive policies save lives, Alpert said.

He adds there have been issues with excessive force used by officers after pursuits but no reliable statistics exist on the issue.

Jim Pasco, executive director of National Fraternal Order of Police, said it's not uncommon for individuals arrested after a chase to claim excessive force. But, he adds the fact that the person has just been apprehended "has to color the manner in which they view their assertion."

Still, after public pressure from the families of dead innocent bystanders and claims of excessive force, changes have come.

Four years ago, the St. Petersburg Police Department loosened its pursuit policy. But as part of his campaign, Mayor Rick Kriseman vowed to reinstate stricter pursuit rules. He said the public was concerned about officers and suspects speeding down roads and innocent civilians being injured in the process.

"I wanted to make sure that if our officers were going to engage in a high-speed pursuit that the risk that they were personally taking on in addition to the risk to the community was triggered by an event of equal significance," Kriseman said.

Dorothy Sigelmier, Williams' aunt, agrees. She is now hoping her niece's death will lead to even more sweeping changes in Cleveland and around the country.

"It still hurts me," Sigelmier, 58, said. "I want people to know that they didn't have to kill them like that."

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