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October 30, 2005

Police chases need to be worth risk of injury or death

How dangerous a profession law enforcement can be was driven home again recently in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City police officer died of injuries suffered in an accident while he was involved in a high-speed pursuit.

That accident, along with a couple of others in the Oklahoma City area, have people taking a hard look at chases. In the other incidents, three people were injured when a car being chased by OKC police crashed into another vehicle in an intersection, and a man drowned after his vehicle crashed into the Oklahoma River while he was being chased.

One question coming up is whether pursuits are worth the risk -- to the officers and the innocent people who also happen to be on the road at the time.

In Garfield County, the sheriff's department and Enid Police Department have policies that include the pursuing deputy or officer and a supervisor in on the decision whether to initiate a pursuit and whether to call it off.

Factors such as time of day, traffic, weather conditions and road conditions all are included in the decision-making process. The suspected crime also plays a large part in the decision.

One big problem no amount of discussion or planning by law enforcement authorities can factor in is the suspect being chased. Obviously, these people are running for a reason, and their only concern is not getting caught. They aren't worried about anyone else on the road, and they aren't worried about whether anyone else gets hurt.

In light of statistics that highlight the danger of pursuits, some police departments across the country are moving toward policies that allow chases only if the suspects have committed violent offenses.

According to statistics by Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor who has studied pursuits for 20 years, about 40 percent of all police chases nationwide end in crashes.

Are pursuits worth the risk? Is there a better way things can be handled?

In many cases, we would have to say the reward of catching a suspect is not worth the risk. That's especially the case when someone is injured or killed.


Story Comments

I attended that officer's funeral. He was a strong advocate of allowing officers and their supervisors the descretion to decide whether to pursue or not. The last paragraph of this editorial would be relevant only if police had ESP. Otherwise, it's just ignorant. No one knows how these events will end. If officers only chase violent suspects, then many more will run. Speaking of statistics...UCLA has done studies which indicate that after officers discontinue their pursuit, 50% of offenders still drive recklessly. It's time that we put the responsibility where it belongs...

If the punishment is severe enough and immediate enough then the perpertrators would soon learn to control their actions. An automatic 20 years without parole, no appeals, and incarceration within a week would take make persons think twice before attempting to elude. In this case the punishment for trying to elude needs to be far more than the punishment for a stolen vehicle.

I agree with WRH that the penalty for eluding a police officer needs to be severe.
I agree

Police Chases ARE NOT worth the risk of an innocent human being being killed.The key to stop unnecessary pursuits is that officers to start using common sense.Is it worth an innocent human-being being killed over a minor traffic or property violation,such as stolen gas,running a red light,or a broken tail-light? I should think NOT!!.Statistics don't show how many people that become totally disabled,or are paraylyzed,or an little baby's body parts being torn off from their sockets.But I assure you of one thing,they are in the thousands!!,or maybe even in the millions!! Jonathan Hearld Advocate for Safer and Smarter Police Pursuits.
Jonathan Hearld





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