Police chases not worth risk of tragedy
by Margery Eagan
Boston Globe Columnist
This editorial is no longer posted on the Boston Globe Web site
"Here’s yet another question: would you prefer someone driving through Boston erratically at 40 mph, or chased by police,
at 70 or 80 mph?"
May 31, 2007—Explain this, please: Because about 100 children a year are abducted and killed by strangers, we have totally revamped American childhood. “Good” parents won’t even let children in the back yard alone.
Yet at least that many innocent Americans, including children (some estimate two or three times as many) are killed every year in police chases. And every time I’ve written a column asking if these chases are worth it, the response is the same.
Surely I am insane.
Two innocent bystanders killed;
one permanently injured
The latest police chase tragedy came early Sunday morning when Javier Morales, 29, refused to stop for a state trooper in Everett. Morales made an illegal left turn off Route 16. He had no license and feared jail time for a previous no-license arrest.
Perhaps if he faced greater jail time for refusing to stop for police — a penalty many have proposed to reduce these chases — Morales, weighing his options, would have made a different choice. To stop.
As it was, Trooper Joseph Kalil chased Morales’ stolen SUV from Everett to Somerville’s Davis Square, where Morales plowed into a cab driven by Walid Chahine, 45, a husband and father. In the backseat were musician Paul Farris, 23, and his girlfriend Katelyn Hoyt. Hoyt and Chahine [Walid Chahine died at the hospital.] are at Mass. General, critically injured. Farris is dead.
The fourth victim: Trooper Kalil, who must live with what happened for the rest of his days.
So why is it that state police here, and in many other states, chase traffic violators at all? Boston police don’t. Neither do police in many other big cities, in part because of the risk of multimillion-dollar lawsuits. Boston’s pursuit standards are higher than those followed by state police: Boston is supposed to chase only violent or dangerous suspects or those driving erratically, possibly because of drugs or alcohol.
Here’s yet another question: would you prefer someone driving through Boston erratically at 40 mph, or chased by police, at 70 or 80 mph?
One more question: Why do we assume that chasing even dangerous criminals is always worth the risk of maiming or killing a pedestrian or family in a minivan?
Myth vs. Fact
The myth, by the way, is that police typically or even regularly chase the dangerous, “that there’s a dead body in the trunk,” says Geoffrey Alpert of the University of South Carolina, who’s studied police pursuits since 1983.
The fact is, between 75 and 80 percent of chases occur after moving violations, says Alpert. “They’re mostly young kids who’ve made stupid decisions. The more powerful tool for police? Turn off the lights and siren and it’s more likely the suspect will slow down.”
I guess the idea of letting the bad guy get away seems un-American. Perhaps, too, the car chase is too rooted in American legend, from “The French Connection” to O.J. to whatever live police pursuit Fox and MSNBC can find and broadcast.
And perhaps politicians don’t want to buck police. And then there’s adrenaline: If you’ve heard a chase on a police radio, you know want I’m talking about.
Yesterday Pearl Allen, a retired music and Afro-American studies teacher at John D. O’Bryant School, said what many say who lose family to police pursuits. That if police hadn’t chased, her grandson “would still be alive.”
Quentin Osbourne, once a standout for the Boston Raiders Pop Warner team, was 15 when he was ejected from a Hyundai Elantra he and six friends had piled into.
The 16-year-old unlicensed driver ran a stop sign. Police chased. He drove into a brick wall.
“They were just kids,” his grandmother said. “(The police) put on the flashing blue light. I think the driver got scared and sped away, and they just kept chasing until they crashed.”
National Post editorial board on high-speed police chases
by Jonathan Kay
National Post Editorial
Read editorial National Post
June 04, 2007—The numbers sound damning: In the past decade, nearly 20 by-standing Ontarians have been killed by vehicles being pursued at high speeds by local police officers, nine in Toronto, alone. That sum includes two teenage girls tragically killed this past weekend when the taxi in which they were riding was struck by a driver fleeing police. Toronto Mayor David Miller and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty have been quick to condemn police-chase policies, implying that officers — rather than the criminals they were pursuing — are to blame.
But before police reform their high-speed chase procedures as the mayor and premier have demanded, consider that in every previous deadly Toronto chase, the car being chased was stolen. In most cases, it was already traveling at high speed when police engaged it. They typically had pursued it for only a short while (in most cases under two minutes) before it crashed. And in every incident, either the courts or the Ontario Provincial Police’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) absolved officers of any responsibility.
While it is too early to tell officially, initial reports of this past weekend’s crash, which claimed the lives of best friends Aleisha Ashley, 17, and Monique McKnight, 16, would seem to fit this pattern. Chevon Josephs, 15, also killed, was already driving a vehicle he had allegedly stolen at very high speed down a busy street in north Toronto when he was spotted by police. They gave chase. Before their cruisers could engage his car, though, Joseph slammed into Ashley’s and McKnight’s cab in the same intersection in which two innocent people were killed when their car was struck by a stolen van being pursued by police in Sept. 2002.
Since 2000, Ontario police, including Toronto’s, have been governed by a province-wide policy on chases. The manual calls on any officer contemplating a rapid pursuit to consider three factors: The officer must have reason to believe a criminal offence has been or is about to take place. There must be no alternatives to the chase. And the immediate need to identify the driver or the vehicle, or stop the driver from harming the public, must outweigh the risk to public safety. Introduced by the Mike Harris government following a spate of spectacular police-chase crashes, this simple policy has significantly reduced deaths from pursuits.
Some might argue that we need a policy that bans high-speed chases outright. But this would be a false humanitarian savings — since such a policy would encourage violent crime by signaling to criminals that they can always get away from cops simply by flooring their accelerator.
There is another option, however: police helicopters for Toronto. Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton police have all halved or more than halved chase deaths since the introduction of helicopters in those cities. Officers hovering in the air can stealthily follow stolen vehicles without provoking the driver to drive away faster.
To their credit, both Messrs. Miller and McGuinty tempered their calls for a crackdown on police by saying they would wait for the result of an SIU investigation of police actions in last weekend’s crash. But neither man laid any blame on the alleged car thief, and both said nonetheless that a review of police procedures was long overdue. Despite their legalistic caveats, both men left the impression he felt officers had unnecessarily worsened the outcome.
There is no reason to believe police are in any way to blame. Most citizens would complain if police let speeding stolen vehicle roar around the streets unmolested. They would demand police protect them from the threat, which is exactly what Toronto police appear to have been doing when Josephs’ actions took two young lives.
If Messrs. Miller and McGuinty truly want to safeguard the public, they will stop blaming cops for the havoc caused by crooks, and start investigating whether our uniformed protectors might not need help from above.