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Examples of Deadly Pursuits
 
 
by Ret. Bellevue, Wash., Police Chief Donald P. Van Blaricom,
 

Although several specific studies have analyzed the issue of risk in police vehicular pursuits, the following examples may further serve to lend emphasis to the human dimension of real incidents:

A rural deputy sheriff pursued a stolen car driven by two youths at high speed into curves that he knew could not be negotiated until the car left the roadway and went through a home killing the elderly woman inside and the two teenagers in the car.

A highway patrol officer pursued a stolen car through a school zone at high speed until it struck another car broadside and killed the honor student, who was driving to school.

An urban police officer refused to terminate a pursuit, after being ordered to do so, and the pursued driver hit a young woman's car head on, causing her to be a quadriplegic in a vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

A city officer terminated pursuit of a suspected stolen car that was later observed by a rural deputy sheriff, who initiated and continued pursuit until a head-on crash occurred that seriously injured an off-duty city officer driving home.

A highway patrol officer pursued a motorcyclist for speeding until the officer himself struck an oncoming vehicle head-on and was killed at the age of twenty-three.

A small town police officer saw kids drinking in a public park and pursued their pickup into an accident, where the unsecured passenger was ejected from the open truck bed and killed.

A mid-size city police officer pursued a stolen car through red traffic signals at over 100 mph until it hit a young woman head-on and placed her in a vegetative state for life.

A city officer pursued a shoplifter through a crosswalk, where a seven-year-old boy on his way to school was killed.

A highway patrol officer, in pursuit of motorcyclists, ran a stop sign at high speed and hit another vehicle killing a woman and her child -- the damage was so extensive that the investigating city officer had been on the scene for 15 minutes before he realized that the deceased were his wife and daughter.
 
These are just a few of the actual cases of what continues to occur nationwide. The United States Supreme Court has warned, "The police officer deciding whether to give chase must balance on the one hand the need to stop a suspect and, on the other, the high-speed threat to everyone, be they suspects, their passengers, other drivers, or bystanders" (Lewis v. Sacramento County, 1998).  Surely, law enforcement administrators and chief policymakers can expect no less from their officers, 10.5 of whom are killed in vehicular pursuits on average every year, or for the public at large, who are those innocent third parties.

Summary
Many needless injuries and deaths from police vehicular pursuits can be prevented by adopting a restrictive policy that balances a need for immediate apprehension of a suspect against the risks of a pursuit, training of officers in when and when not to engage in a pursuit, supervision of officers actually engaged in a pursuit, and holding officers accountable for failing to comply with the policy, training, and supervision that has been provided to them. We cannot continue to accept the loss of innocent life as being an acceptable casualty rate or a cost of doing business. "Protect and serve" implies much more than a fatalistic acceptance of what can and should be reasonably prevented by responsible police administrators, who are invested with the policy and oversight authority to control police vehicular pursuits.

 

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