Restrictive police chase policies

High-speed chases provided enough excitement and comedy to fill three Smokey and the Bandit movies, but in real life, these pursuits are no laughing matter.

Hundreds of people — mostly those fleeing and innocent bystanders — are killed every year in police chases, and some law enforcement agencies now take a more restrictive approach to pursuits.

The Tri-State was reminded of the dangers last week when a Hanging Rock, Ohio, police officer began pursuit of a speeding Ford Explorer on June 28. A 20-mile chase followed, reaching speeds of 110 miles per hour, as the driver fled along U.S. 52 toward Chesapeake, Ohio.

As the vehicle reached the exit ramp to Huntington’s West 17th Street bridge at an estimated speed of 106 mph, the Explorer left the roadway, traveling about 160 feet through the air before hitting a utility pole and crashing into an embankment.

Killed were the 20-year-old driver Kimoni C. Davis, of Detroit, Michigan, and his 17-year-old passenger Airshaan D. Warren, of Nitro, West Virginia. Investigators have not determined why they sped away from police, but a search of the vehicle turned up no weapons or drugs.

Many questions remain, but the case is not unlike those that have raised concerns elsewhere. Over the past decade police organizations and other groups have begun to collect more data on police pursuits, and the research so far makes a case for more caution.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recorded more than 300 deaths in chases every year. For 2013, it was 322 deaths, with 65 percent being occupants of the fleeing vehicle and 33 percent uninvolved vehicles.

Many of us assume that if someone is running from the police, they must have a reason. Sadly, the research shows often it is not a very good reason. One study showed about 75 percent of chases begin with traffic violations, stolen vehicles or drunk driving and only about 9 percent involved a violent felony. Apparently, a large percentage of those fleeing are young male drivers with bad driving records.

Based on some of that information, lawsuits and public concerns, more police departments are limiting chases to more serious offenses. For example, the Orlando Police Department’s guidelines require reasonable suspicion that the person fleeing has committed or is attempting to commit a violent felony.

With lesser offenses, more restrictive policies typically stress — identifying the vehicle, communicating the information broadly to other agencies and exploring other apprehension methods. A National Institute of Justice report found that once the pursuit is abandoned, most offenders quickly return to a normal driving speed, reducing the risk to themselves and other motorists.

Since high speed chases are dangerous for officers, suspects and the public, it makes sense to review policies to make sure the circumstances justify the risks involved.

Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, West Virginia

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