Police Pursuits

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Dangers of Police Pursuits

January 2006


Debate rages over whether high-speed pursuits are 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 car chases. The written pursuit policies of 47 state law enforcement agencies and the nation's 25 largest cities were subjected to comparative analysis. Qualitative analysis of the policies focused on factors justifying pursuit, physical operation of the police vehicle, circumstances of operation, and external factors. The policies also were rated quantitatively on a continuum ranging from allowing officers a great deal of judgment in the conduct of a pursuit to discouraging all pursuits except as a last resort. Most policies were found to permit a great deal of judgment, although cities tended to be more likely than states to place restrictions on pursuits. Of the approximately 300 people killed each year in the United States from vehicle crashes related to police pursuits, nearly one-third of those are innocent people, according to a study by researchers at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center.

The Real Dangers of Police Pursuits
Police pursuits are one of the biggest issues facing police departments today. Some people feel that the police should not engage in pursuits at all. On the other hand, some feel that this power should not be taken away. The value of chasing offenders who flee from law enforcement officers in Automobiles continues to be the subject of intense interest and controversy among law enforcement officers and public officials alike. As many as 40 percent of all motor vehicle police pursuits end in collisions and some of these result in nearly 300 deaths each year of police officers, offenders, or innocent third party individuals. Since many police pursuits result in accidents and injuries, agencies and officers become subjects of civil lawsuits. These lawsuits, which are initiated in state or federal courts, have resulted cumulatively in case law that directs law enforcement agencies to develop pursuit policies. However, in order to save lives and prevent injuries, what has to happen is that police agencies throughout the country need to develop a universal pursuit policy for all agencies across the United States to adhere to. This policy will map out when to engage in a pursuit and when a pursuit shall be called off. According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), two of every five high-speed police chases in the U.S. end in property damage; one in four ends in injury while others may end in death. According to a statistic an average of 287 people died as a result of police pursuits every year during the eighties. Of this total, 2 were police officers and 198 were individuals being chased. The remaining 114 were either occupants of unrelated vehicles or pedestrians. (Zalin) The vast majority of high-speed chases begins with just a minor traffic violation and escalates into dangerous chases. If the risks are too high then the pursuit is terminated. This way pf thinking has been very effective in aiding the police officers in this gray area concerning this issue. 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. Police pursuits provide some frightening statistics. First, the majority of police pursuits involve a stop for a traffic violation. Second, one person dies every day as a result of a police pursuit. On average, from 1994 through 1998, one law enforcement officer was killed every 11 weeks in a pursuit, and 1 percent of all U.S. law enforcement officers who died in the line-of-duty lost their lives in vehicle pursuits. Innocent third parties who just happened to be in...
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