Thousands of People Are Killed by Police Chases
On March 19, a 60-year-old federal worker was killed; on June 7, a 63-year-old Indianapolis grandmother; and on July 18, a 25-year-old New Jersey man.
What ties all of these people together? They were all innocent bystanders who met their end in the midst of high-speed police chases.
Every year, police across the United States chase tens of thousands of people – usually for minor infractions or misdemeanors – often putting everyone in the proximity at risk of a deadly accident. The statistics clearly reflect the danger of this longstanding police practice. According to an FBI report, police chases kill one person a day on average, and innocent bystanders constitute 42 percent of these fatalities.
Even police aren’t spared from the devastating consequences of high-speed pursuit crashes. Federal records indicate that at least 139 police have been killed in such incidents.
Many police accept the casualties as a regrettable yet unavoidable part of the job, while maintaining that chases are absolutely necessary to law and order. If they were to let uncooperative drivers flee, they say, it would set a bad precedent, allowing criminals to do whatever they please.
However, there are those in law enforcement who acknowledge the danger of high-speed pursuits and encourage officers to abort dangerous chases or avoid them altogether.
In an attempt to curb high-speed pursuits, which they called “the most dangerous of all ordinary police activities,” the Justice Department advised police departments to set stringent regulations dictating when officers should and should not chase a fleeing driver.
“Far more police vehicle chases occur each year than police shootings,” the department said.
Despite the Justice Department’s warning, most police departments still let officers use their own discretion to decide whether to chase – and police records show that they don’t always make the right choice. An examination of California chase records revealed that more than 89 percent of pursuits were for vehicle-code violations, including speeding, reckless driving, and expired registration.
Needless to say, the police aren’t exactly to blame for high-speed pursuits. After all, it is the criminal driver who initiates the chase and police are trained precisely to stop crime, not let it go. So it is understandable why police choose to pursue more often than not.
The real issue lies in the fact that pursuit-termination devices haven’t kept up with the advances made in other areas of police technology in the last 15 years.
One such device that would shut off car engines with microwave transmissions is still not commercially available, even after a decade of development and research. The owner of Fiore Industries, which tried to build the devices, said that there simply wasn’t enough funding.
Another device, which allows police to shoot and stick an adhesive GPS tracker tag onto the fleeing vehicle, has been commercially available since 2010, but is used by only 20 of the nation’s 18,000 police departments. The reason why so many departments have declined to use the device is because it requires officers to get within 30 feet of a fleeing vehicle in order to be deployed effectively, which nearly defeats its purpose as a pursuit-termination device. The $5,000 price tag doesn’t help either.
In this day and age, it’s a wonder why police departments haven’t been provided with the proper technologies which would allow them to track or stop fleeing criminals without having to partake in a dangerous chase. More funding towards police pursuit-termination technology would be beneficial to everyone – police, motorists, and pedestrians included. Until better alternatives are made available, department policies on high-speed pursuits are not likely to change.