November 8, 2003 -- Every
year as many as 400 people are killed during police pursuits
in this country.
Last May, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Officer Doug Bryant
became one of them as he chased a suspect down Interstate 75
and crashed in Fort Mitchell.
Police chases in the last few months involving Kentucky and
Ohio law enforcement officers have followed high-speed and
circuitous routes that spanned bridges, roads and airspace
across the Tri-state.
Debate rages over whether high-speed pursuit is justified.
And consensus is growing among local and national law
enforcement for the need for stricter controls to dictate
when, where and why police engage in such potentially deadly
"We're seeing (pursuit policies) that are more
restricted as to the nature of the pursuit. -- And due to
the safety factor, some agencies now have said no pursuits,
period," said Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice
Training Emergency Vehicle Operations Supervisor Mike
Driving the action is the public's steadily souring view of
car chases, even in that home of the live police pursuit
television cut-in, Los Angeles.
Too often the broadcasts gave viewers the graphic truth --
the crashes spawned by nearly half of all police car chases
kill almost as many good guys as bad guys.
Locally, police department administrators from Boone to
Bellevue are both developing pursuit policies and rewriting
those that exist, just as departments from Los Angeles to
Washington, D.C. have done already.
In a world filled with toys and games like Police Chase
Charlie, the Hot Wheels Highway Police Chase Playset and
PlayStation's World's Scariest Police Chases it's easy to
see how even newly trained police professionals might
romanticize this aspect of the job.
But within real-life police chases, with real metal, glass,
flesh, blood and lawyers, that romance fades.
"After all the negative coverage and lawsuits -- and
the results of what's already happened out there, a lot of
agencies are saying it's not worth it," Leaverton said.
Numbers tell some of the story. According to national data,
10 of the 116 officers killed in the line of duty as of Nov.
2 this year died while chasing suspects in cars.
The number is third only to the 38 officers killed this year
by gunfire and the 35 who died in non-pursuit car crashes.
But figures regarding the overall results of police pursuits
may be more telling of the changing mood about them.
According to national monitoring organization, Pursuit
Watch, 40 percent of police pursuits end in crashes and half
of those cause some kind of injury.
And though most departments do not maintain data on
pursuits, statistics collected by the voluntary Fatal
Accident Reporting System (FARS) indicate that at least 1
percent of all police pursuits end in death.
Each year in the U.S., 300 to 400 people die in such car
chases. Though most of the deaths occur to occupants in the
car being chased, nearly that many are killed in other cars
on the road or on the roadside near the pursuit. Fewer than
10 pursuing police officers die in car chases annually,
according to FARS data.
And, fewer than 17 percent of suspects fleeing police are
serious felony offenders.
Those numbers provide insight into so many departments are
reevaluating and rewriting their guidelines for car chases.
Northern Kentucky's largest law enforcement agency, the
Boone County Sheriff's Department, will soon institute a
newly written pursuit policy built around the level of risk
a potential pursuit poses to others.
Suspects whose behavior presents imminent danger to others
can only be chased if suspected in major crimes, like murder
or kidnapping, under the new policy.
Lt. Col. Robert Reuthe said the reformulated guidelines
reflect the demands of a rapidly growing county.
"You watch officers dying across the country in motor
vehicle accidents and we just decided with traffic as
congested as it is, we had to put some limits on it," Reuthe said.
" -- And I think when you have the L.A.P.D. and L.A.
County Sheriff's office and Chattanooga police saying, 'Hold
on, we've got to change our philosophy on this' -- that even
though we might have taken heat in the past for changing
this (policy), I think now more will be saying, 'You're on
the right path.' "
Like Boone County deputies, officers with Erlanger and
Covington police frequently face potential pursuits merely
because sections of Interstate 75 cross through their
Both departments' pursuit policies require shift supervisors
be notified of any pursuits. These senior officers then
oversee the pursuit's progress, with the option of canceling
the chase at their discretion.
Covington and Erlanger police also require marked cruisers
with activated lights and sirens for all pursuits, which are
typically limited to only two chase cars. Supervisors must
monitor pursuit via police radio.
Erlanger Police Lt. Kevin Gilpin said supervisors are
integral in lending the objective, experienced oversight
needed to keep these often heated, high-speed crime hunts
from running into deadly problems like sudden traffic snarls
and road surface irregularities. The actions of all involved
in the chase are reviewed later for policy compliance and
future problem-solving potential.
"Supervisors have responsibilities in this. -- If the
supervisor feels it's just too dangerous and the risk
outweighs the benefits, he can terminate that pursuit." Gilpin said.
"One of the things people have to realize is if you're
going above 55 mph, everyone ahead of you cannot hear your
siren. So it should be realized that at 55 mph, a siren is
Even at slower speeds with all precautions in place, chasing
law-breakers is always risky business. One of those to find
that out firsthand most recently was Covington Police
Officer Rob Nader.
On Nov. 3, police say Nader was chasing a suspect down
Sterret Avenue, when a van driven by another motorist
crossed Sterret at Madison Avenue and crashed into Nader's
cruiser even though his cruiser's lights and sirens were
"No one was hurt," said Covington Assistant Police
Chief Lt. Col. Mike Kraft.
"It happened after a person -- (came) to the police
department -- and told the officer a car was chasing them. (Nader)
tried to stop that car, but the car fled. -- Officer Nader
was chasing the car and became involved in an
Though the crash damaged both van and police cruiser, police
did make a felony arrest of the 20-year-old Covington man
allegedly in the car Nader was chasing. Most importantly, no
one was hurt.
But the pervasive fear that someone could be keeps the
police pursuit policy review rolling, even at smaller
departments like Bellevue Police. With just 11 sworn
officers on staff, Chief Bill Cole said it may be even more
important for his department to have an effective,
up-to-date pursuit policy in place to cover the rapidly
changing riverfront community efficiently.
Cole is reviewing what he calls a "very vague
policy" currently in place in Bellevue with an eye
toward an overhaul in the new year.
Kentucky's primary police training agency is, in January,
adding a course in pursuit driving at the Department for
Criminal Justice Training in Richmond. The new hands-on
course for seasoned police officers reflects the push
nationally to rein in the practice of this long-romanticized
part of police work among departments across the
Many veteran Northern Kentucky officers support that idea,
explaining that as new police officers they were more eager
to engage in car chases -- a phenomenon most say they still
see in new recruits today.
Most officers acknowledged the risk in policies that hold
officers back from some car chases. They realize that some
suspects will take advantage of such policies, although
experts say departments that have cut back or stopped
pursuits have experienced few such problems.
Likewise, most local law enforcement administrators say
letting a few low-level law-breakers race away is a small
price to pay for what they see as a practice that greatly
enhances the safety of everyone in their communities.
In trying to explain the trend, Gilpin says, "It's
funny because when you first get in the job you think it's
going to be neat to run down the street with the lights and
sirens on, because when you watched it on TV, you didn't
think about it. You just go, 'That looks like that's fun.'
And to a certain extent, it is fun -- that rush of
"But it takes a toll on you. -- because the guy trying
to get away from police doesn't care about people in the
roadway. So we have to. What's the old saying? 'You may win
today's battle, but you're not going to win the war.' "
Publication Date: 11-08-2003