Nine deadly myths and one fact why high-speed chases
will continue unabated in California and worldwide
and more & more innocent victims will be killed and injured.
Revised September 26, 2005
"Absolutely, the person who chooses to flee from the police is to blame. It is his/her primary responsibility to stop for the police. These are serious criminals who should be put in prison. BUT, knowing that some people will flee, the police have the responsibility to act in a way that protects us -- the public," Geoffrey Alpert, an international expert on police violence and pursuit driving.
People run because there's a dead body in their trunk.
Of course, the police have found dead bodies in the trunks of cars. But this myth begs the question: When was the last time you have read or heard a news story where an innocent person was killed in a pursuit and the UNKNOWN person being chased had a dead body in the trunk? When officers call off chases for the safety of innocent bystanders, they need to provide the media with as much information about the suspect, so the public is aware that there might be a dangerous person in their area.
A weak argument for police chases
If officers don't chase, then everyone will flee.
Law enforcement officials repeat this myth over and over again. One could mistakenly conclude that a mandatory reduction in police pursuits via restrictive pursuit policies -- allowing chases for only violent felons -- renders police officers completely powerless. These three studies prove otherwise:
Review of Orlando (Fla.) PD's Restrictive Pursuit Policy
Results from the LAPD Review
A Department of Justice Study
However, officers have everything to do with the outcome of pursuits that result in a positive conclusion.
Clovis Officers Honored
Pursuit crashes are just "car accidents."
Crimes committed with cars are extremely common. Innocent victims and their families are often victimized again when the media, the public, and the courts call these crimes "car accidents." Accidents are not premeditated. Pursuits occur when a person decides to flee and an officer decides to chase. People who flee are self-absorbed; they are not thinking about the safety of others. So, the burden to protect innocent victims, by necessity, falls on the police.
A letter from Desiree's mom and dad
It's the victims' fault; they should have been paying attention.
They should have heard the sirens and seen the lights.
"One of the things people have to realize is if the officer is going above 55 mph, everyone ahead of the officer cannot hear the siren. So it should be realized that at 55 mph, a siren is virtually ineffective."
--Police Lt. Kevin Gilpin, Erlanger, Kentucky
Kentucky Post, Nov. 8, 2003
Police are given certain privileges by law to help maintain an orderly society. Those rules are given to them to follow and not abuse. For example, they are provided lights and sirens to warn us of an impending danger and to signal for us to pull over when they need to talk with us or get us out of the way. These lights and sirens are just that -- warning devices. Police officers are trained to understand that many civilians do not hear or see these warning devices and to drive "with the due regard for the safety of all motorists." Do police expect us all to hear exactly the same thing and recognize the direction of a siren? Are we not allowed to listen to the radio or have conversations with each other on a family drive? Sure, we are not supposed to have music on so loud that it interferes with our driving, but that is a far cry from normal and reasonable listening that could cover up a siren in the distance. Do you think deaf citizens should not be able to drive?
--Geoff Alpert, Police Pursuit Expert
"The most common terminating event in an urban pursuit is a crash,
and that crash will most often occur at an intersection."
--Retired Police Chief Donald Van Blaricom, Bellevue, Washington
Also, it is the suspect who is the lead car in a pursuit, not the police car, making it more difficult for victims to hear sirens and see lights as they approach intersections, sometimes blind intersections (such as the situation in the pursuit that killed Kristie). That's why most pursuit policies, including the Chico Police Department's pursuit policy, do not allow pursuits "if they are traversing traffic-controlled intersections." In the Chico pursuit, the teen was chased down a street where multiple stop signs were ignored, while intersecting streets, such as the one our family was driving on had no stop signs. We did not see or hear anything and nothing unusual or loud was going on in our car.
If officers don't chase, "someone else" might get killed.
Or, innocent people killed in pursuits are collateral damage. Their deaths are necessary to protect the greater majority.
This myth is so hard to comprehend, but easy to understand. For many years the media has almost exclusively used law enforcement officials as their primary source when covering deadly chases that involved innocent victims. With the number of innocent victims of pursuit increasing daily, the public is beginning to question if the cost of these chases outweighs the benefit.
Also, if a pursuit of an unknown suspect is called off for safety reasons, law enforcement can notify the media, similar to Amber Alerts, and alert the public that a potentially dangerous suspect has fled from the police and is still at-large. They can give the media details of the suspect and the vehicle he/she was driving.
Obviously, killing the innocent does not save lives.
Not that many innocent people get killed in pursuits,
so the general public thinks it will never happen to them.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports year after year that more innocent bystanders are killed in police chases than officers. The NHTSA report for pursuit fatalities in the United States discloses that 370 people were killed in 2001. Occupants in a police vehicle totaled 4. Occupants of other vehicle (innocent bystanders) not involved in the pursuit and pedestrians totaled 143. Occupants in chased vehicle (note, this includes passengers, some are children) totaled 223.
And, these crashes occur one at a time,
so only the loved ones left behind, who bury the dead and take care of the permanently injured, feel the full brunt of the deaths and injuries.
A personal note from Candy Priano:
I didn't think it would happen to me either. My children made good choices and respected police officers, teachers, coaches, and adults. We did everything together; they didn't run around. In fact, we decided they would be 17 before they even got a driver's license so we could keep them safe.
About a month before Kristie was killed as I was changing channels on my TV, I saw a high-speed chase end in a horrific crash. I turned off the TV and said out loud to myself, "Someone COULD get killed doing that," never realizing at the time that people DO get killed doing that. Not until my Kristie was killed did I truly understand that high-speed police chases kill innocent people.
Read about "Apathy" right here.
The myth of the split-second decision.
So often we hear that officers must make split-second decisions when it comes to pursuits. The truth is with good policy, common sense, and accountability, the split-second decision myth doesn't hold water. For example, it is not in the interest of public safety for an officer to "light up" a suspect in a stolen vehicle in a busy store parking lot or on a heavily traveled road with traffic-controlled intersections nearby. The individual driving that stolen car most likely will not pull over appropriately. Instead the driver will "bolt," putting everyone in the vicinity in harm's way. Same thing applies if the suspect has violated parole. The officer needs to survey the traffic and the pedestrians before "lighting up" any suspect who is a flight risk.
In many of these chases for known car thieves and non-violent parole violators, we often hear that the pursuit lasted only "90 seconds" or "60 seconds." Most pursuits last a total of two minutes. The length of a pursuit does not make a difference to the families of innocent victims. It is as if the length of a chase justifies the killing and maiming of innocent people.
If police pursuit practices were broken,
our elected legislators would fix the problem.
Law and Order Republican Senator Sam Aanestad, author of Kristie's Law, is ONE legislator who has never wavered in his stand on public safety first. He put his own political ambitions aside in order to introduce legislation that will save lives. Read how Senator Aanestad's political career has been threatened in this news article in the L.A. Times.
The following commentary is by Jim Phillips, president of PursuitWatch.org: "California Law Enforcement is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the state. Additionally, the endorsement of political candidates by Law Enforcement is a very important element in any campaign. California Law Enforcement would like to frame the whole immunity issue into the simplistic logic of 'If the bad guys had not run, none of this would have happened.' PERIOD. While this is certainly true, it ignores the complexity of pursuits and prevents any rational approach to making them safer and less costly. The scandalous position of California Law Enforcement is that they are powerless to do anything to prevent pursuit deaths and injuries and that is exactly what they do -- nothing."
... and the #1 reason why high-speed chases continue unabated:
Fact: Most innocent victims of pursuit are poor;
the right person has not been killed yet.
However, since more and more middle class citizens are being killed
in these deadly chases, THIS ISSUE is becoming a more PUBLIC ISSUE.
If you don't believe #1, read about this deadly chase in Stockton!
©2005, 2006 KristiesLaw.org