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Needless chases, needless deaths

StarNewsOnline.com
The Voice of Southeastern North Carolina

March 25, 2005 -- Police chases are always dangerous and not always justified. They can kill small-fry offenders. Worse, they can kill innocent bystanders or law-enforcement officers.

The 2004 chase that killed 27-year-old Tabor City Officer Timothy Shane Miller was needless. On his first day on the job, Mr. Miller was riding with another officer who pursued a driver who'd made a fast turn.

The police car crashed into an SUV, injuring its five occupants and the driver of the police car. Mr. Miller died.

It should not have happened. It would not have happened if the Tabor City Police Department followed a responsible chase policy.

High-speed chases are exceedingly dangerous. One law-enforcement organization recently concluded that 40 percent of them end in accidents, 20 percent end in injuries and 1 percent end in deaths.

Any sane policy would reserve such a dangerous remedy for situations in which letting a suspect get away is likely to pose a greater danger to the public -- and to officers -- than letting him go and trying to catch him later.

Making a fast turn does not begin to meet that standard.

Some law-enforcement people are talking about another way to minimize chases: make it a serious crime to flee an officer. That's worth careful consideration. It might help.

But the threat of being charged with that felony wouldn't do much to stop people in jeopardy of being charged with more serious crimes.

The question would still remain: How should officers and their superiors decide whether a chase is worth the risks?

Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous boils the dilemma down to its essence: "What is the greater public good?"

It's one thing to risk lives to stop a violent criminal or a drunken driver who's likely to hurt others. It's quite another to nab a routine traffic offender.