Franklin County Sheriff's Office makes changes after crashes, 10TV investigation of pursuits


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Changes are underway at the Franklin County Sheriff's Office after a 10 Investigates story.

As 10TV first reported February 25, high-ranking officers within the Columbus Division of Police raised concerns about the sheriff's office pursuit policy.

Internal emails obtained by 10TV detailed worries about chases officers called dangerous and unnecessary Now the sheriff's office is making changes.

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The concerns come after multiple sheriff's pursuits ended in crashes.

In the most recent incident, February 26 (one day after 10TV's investigation aired), pedestrian Arthur Smith was critically injured when he was hit by a stolen car being chased by the sheriff's office.

"It was somewhat senseless. I don't understand it," said Smith's son Anthony.

Arthur's family says he remains in critical condition.

Before that, there was a January 25 pursuit that hit speeds of 108 miles an hour, also for a reported stolen car.

10TV spoke with a driver who says the stolen Toyota nearly hit her head-on.

"This is just absurd," she said. "Especially for a stolen car. Absurd."

That pursuit ended with two police cruisers colliding.

There was a deadly pursuit on December 12, initiated for a speeding violation. The fleeing car rolled, killing the driver and one passenger.

Officers rescued two babies from the backseat who were physically unhurt.

As 10 Investigates uncovered, in internal emails and on-background conversations, high-ranking Columbus Police supervisors said the following about the sheriff's office:

A commander said, "They don't have a strong enough pursuit policy. They chase everything."

A sergeant wrote, "We are seeing more and more activity from the county...they seem to play by a complete different set of rules than we do."

A third supervisor said, "if you're chasing a bunch of cars that don't need chased, they're going to get somebody killed."

Talking with 10TV on February 18, Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin agreed that pursuits are among the most dangerous things officers do.

"Absolutely," he said. "A recent study I read said that one-third of all fatalities in a pursuit are innocent victims. That's a really high threshold. So you have to take that into account every time you pursue a car, are they going to have a crash? Because they're not abiding by any rules. They're just running."

But unlike the policy of Columbus Police, his pursuit policy did not require a serious crime to justify a chase.

"The difference mainly is, we may start chasing a car for a stolen car or a minor violation. The chase continues on to the point it's deemed unsafe by a supervisor or a deputy pursuing."

In that interview, the sheriff defended his policy but said that all policies are constantly being reviewed and evaluated for improvement.

It was a position the sheriff's office stood by last week, even after Arthur Smith was hit.

But over the weekend, the sheriff made a change.

In an email response to questions from 10TV, Sheriff Baldwin wrote:

"I instructed the Patrol Chief to closely monitor pursuits involving minor traffic offenses and that I preferred to have them terminated if there were no other offenses involved. This was a verbal order. I gave this order due to concerns I have regarding circumstances not covered in the current policy."

10TV asked to speak with the sheriff Tuesday to get clarity on the change, and whether it would be officially implemented as policy. We also wanted to know why he made that order verbally, rather than in writing to his staff. He has not responded to our request.

Watch 10TV's entire investigation on the sheriff's office pursuit policy, and see why some at CPD say the problem has gotten worse since the sheriff began filming with the popular crime show "Live PD."

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