High-speed police pursuits can be deadly for police officers, innocent bystanders, and suspects. A 2015 USA Today article reports that from 1979 to 2013, 139 police officers were killed during or as a result of high-speed pursuits. During that same time frame, more than 5,000 passengers and bystanders were inadvertently killed due to high-speed police chases, and tens of thousands of people were injured. Suspects also endangered themselves by choosing to run from the law. USA Today says 6,300 suspects died in high-speed pursuits during the time frame of its research. It's no wonder that in 1990, the Justice Department called police chases "the most dangerous of all ordinary police activities."
To reduce the dangers of high-speed vehicle pursuits, law enforcement agencies need to understand the causes of high-speed pursuits, the legal issues involved, the problems behind such pursuits, and the strategies for reducing high-speed pursuits.
In California, only 5% of high speed pursuits were an attempt to catch someone suspected of committing a violent crime; the majority of the pursuits started for a minor traffic or vehicle infraction. In 1998, a study funded by the Justice Department revealed that the most common violation for suspects who caused high-speed pursuits was car theft. The second most common offense was having a suspended license, and the third was avoiding arrest.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn believes that the risks involved with high-speed pursuits do not justify the rewards. In an interview for that 2015 USA Today article Flynn said, "Overwhelmingly, someone is fleeing because they've got a minor warrant, their car isn't insured, they've had too much to drink...the sanctions imposed by courts nationwide for merely stealing a car don't justify anybody taking any risk."
James Vaughn is the chief instructor at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy Driver Instructor Course. In 2004, he showed his class of officers a video of a police chase that ultimately ended with the fleeing vehicle being rammed by a police cruiser, leading the passenger and her child to be ejected. The driver's offense was possessing a small amount of crack. Vaughn asked if a suspect could be shot for possessing a small amount of crack and equated the two events. Vaughn says that many officers "perceive a fleeing suspect as something personal." He goes on to say that thankfully, "there has been an evolution of the profession through better training and better policies."
Read the full article at PoliceMag.com.