Point for Discussion:
Police pursuits, where police cars are chasing someone who is committing a crime, puts innocent people at risk on the roadways. There must be a better way for police to catch criminals than having multiple police cars speeding through traffic, chasing the same car, causing the criminals to drive even faster, until a crash happens or someone gets hurt.
According to governing.com, in a 2016 article about “High-speed police going high-tech,” more than 10,000 people were killed in police pursuits between 1979 and 2013, with nearly half of these deaths being of innocent bystanders. Tens of thousands of others were injured during these police pursuits.
And the number of police pursuits appears to be staying high since then…
Our Points of View:
I sincerely appreciate the work of law enforcement in protecting us and reducing crime. However, in the case of police pursuits, innocent bystanders should not be put at risk. The greater good is protecting more people, and sometimes that means letting the one or two bad guys (or girls) go.
When my husband was one of those innocent bystanders, driving down a road, going to work at 6 in the morning, he wasn’t expecting the situation that unfolded. In his rearview mirror, he heard police sirens, saw the lights, saw the cars driving fast…and then saw the SUV they were chasing, flip upside down, go up into the air, and fly toward him…before landing upside down on the top of his car, crushing the roof.
He survived by a miracle that forced his seat back to fall back, and him along with it. It just wasn’t his time to go. Before bouncing and landing on his car, the SUV landed on another car, causing brain-damage to the driver of that vehicle.
I understand the need for police to make split-second decisions. In this case, however, the decision was not split-second. The decision was made to have 5 or more police vehicles, across multiple jurisdictions, speeding after the SUV, all going in the same direction. The SUV was stolen, was carrying wheels that were stolen, and the police wanted to catch him. Apparently it was a serial wheel-stealer. However, in doing so, the police put several innocent drivers at risk as the SUV weaved in and out of traffic, followed by multiple police vehicles doing the same. How many police cars does it take to take out a criminal in a pursuit?
There must be a better way to conduct police pursuits that avoid the risk to others (including police officers) and limit the number of police cars going after the same culprit. Using this SUV scenario as an example for broader policy:
- Couldn’t one police car follow the SUV, and other police cars “cut it off at the pass” further up along the road to stop it?
- Couldn’t a helicopter (maybe drones in the future) fly above, get ahead of the SUV, and shoot out its tires, or otherwise disable the vehicle?
- Could the police cars back off, and just let the SUV get away, after assessing the situation in motion, and then chase by helicopter or drone until the SUV stops, or is in a safe area to surround (some states are doing this).
Additional possible broader solutions being tested or used in some places:
- Some countries use sharp shooters in helicopters to take out a car.
- Others have used, or are testing, equipment to track cars, where a transmitter is fired by an air gun, which sticks to a car. The car can be tracked, and police can slow down.
- There is also equipment to turn off the engine of a connected car (“On-star” type system).
No innocent person should have to fear “being in the way” of a police pursuit. It’s time for law enforcement to re-think the approach and collaborate with other jurisdictions to develop an alternative to high-speed police pursuits.
From my research, I can see that law enforcement acknowledges the issue, and is working hard to develop policies and procedures, utilizing technology to solve this issue, catching fleeing criminals while trying to minimize damage to property, personal injuries and deaths. This is a good start.
Laurie’s husband had a frightening experience as the result of a police chase related to a non-violent crime. I agree with her that something needs to be done to protect citizens from these public risks. Our police officers, who serve to protect us, are putting us at great risk when they make a decision to chase down alleged criminals.
From the outside, looking in, there doesn’t appear to be enough consideration given to the severity of the violation involved. While I agree that even car theft should be punished, a police chase that puts innocent bystanders at risk seems extreme.
Like anything else, some common sense needs to be used when deciding how to deal with a particular situation. If someone committed a violent crime and is resisting arrest, chasing them down to protect the public makes complete sense. For a non-violent crime, maybe not. There are video cameras on almost every corner these days. While much of this is privately owned, law enforcement could subpoena the recordings if there is something they needed see. So for non-violent offenders, maybe law enforcement could use other methods rather than chasing people down.
Law enforcement needs to change with the times. We’ve seen recent examples of new technologies used to solve crimes from several years ago. Social media has helped as well.
There’s no need to put innocent bystanders at risk unless the benefit of doing so outweighs the risk. Consideration must be given to the severity of the crime, the risks to innocent bystanders, and what alternative methods may be available to catch alleged criminals.
Our Question for You:
How do you think police pursuits, or apprehension of criminals on the road, could be more effective and limit the risk to innocent bystanders?