WESTERLY — No shots were fired and the suspect turned himself over to officers once stopped, but Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said the department is reviewing its policies and training after an incident last week in which officers drew their department-issued firearms following a short car chase involving an 18-year-old.
Westerly police charged the man, Jovan Ortiz, of Plainfield, Conn., with reckless driving after Ortiz led officers on a wrong-way chase along Airport Road on June 23, nearly striking several cars along the way. Ortiz entered a no-contest plea in Fourth Division District Court the following day and was sentenced to one year of probation and court fees.
Lacey said that while he was grateful that the situation ended without shots fired or any injuries, the department is evaluating its response in an effort to determine why guns were drawn and to help develop policy and training to better direct officer responses.
"We are aware of what's going on across the nation, and we are evaluating all responses locally," Lacey said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. "This was a case where, during the response, we received numerous calls to the station from witnesses who wanted to make us aware that officers were drawing their firearms during a traffic stop."
Lacey said the incident, which occurred just before 5 p.m., ended at a heavily trafficked intersection, which made the response even more public.
According to a police report, officers were on patrol along Airport Road when a Lincoln MKZ driven by Ortiz passed an officer while driving north at 65 to 70 mph, nearly double the posted speed limit. Lacey said the department had also received several calls from concerned motorists who described the car involved.
An officer turned around to follow Ortiz as he approached a queue more than a quarter-mile long as a result of heavy beach traffic. Police said Ortiz never stopped, instead accelerating into the southbound lane while still driving north. He continued the wrong way, the police said, forcing several cars off the side of the road to avoid a collision.
The car became gridlocked near the intersection of Routes 1 and 78, at which time officers drew their guns and demanded Ortiz get out of the car. The police said Ortiz complied with all requests, getting out and laying on the ground, and was taken into custody without further incident.
Lacey said while previous training may have called for weapons to be drawn, he was concerned regarding the circumstances. He said officers across the department have been asked to learn from their experiences in all situations, and this response won't be treated any differently.
"We are always looking for ways to improve and to better serve the community. It's no different with this," he said.