Police Pursuits and the Risks

Police pursuits have long been the center of attention when it comes to media.  Should we chase, should we terminate, should we only chase for serious crimes, etc.  It seems no matter which route the police choose, they end up getting blamed for the outcome.

But what makes this topic so interesting is that the chances of an innocent person dying in a police pursuit compared to almost any other accidental death scenario is staggering.  For instance, take a study done by BMJ Publishing Group Ltd, based off the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  The study was based over 8 years of data, specifically targeted to police pursuit related deaths.  And the years were 1994 to 2002.  In this 9 year period, the data showed that there were 2654 fatal crashes involving 3965 vehicles of which there were 3146 fatalities.  Of these, 1088 were to people not in the fleeing vehicle.  This means, 1088 innocent people, or 3rd parties died as a result of these pursuits.  These crashes often occurred at high speed, in the night, on local roads and most of the pursued drivers had prior motor vehicle related convictions.

Another way of looking at the data, there were 260?325 police pursuits ending in a fatality annually in the United States during this period, for a total of 2654 crashes involving 3965 vehicles and 3146 fatalities.  Of the 3146 fatalities, 1088 deaths were of people not in the vehicle being pursed, and 2055 to people in the fleeing vehicle. Altogether, there were 102 (3.2%) fatalities that were non-motorists of which 40 were police officers, 946 (30.1%) were occupants of vehicles uninvolved in the police pursuit, and three were unknown. Most of the innocent deaths were motor vehicle occupants, with 102 of them being either pedestrians or bicyclists.

So in one conclusion, accidental deaths from police pursuits (to third parties not running from the police) accounted for 1088 people over 9 years, or an average of 121 people per year.  Is that too many?  Of course it is.  One death is too many.  But lets take a look at the other side of the coin.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2004 alone (one year), a Fall accident (i.e. falling off of a ladder) accounted for 18,535 deaths in the United States.  Again, that is for one year.  Multiply that by 9 years, and you get 166,815 deaths.  Just this one scenario shows that 1,088 innocent third parties (or even 3,146 which included the people running) over a 9 year period compared to 166,815 deaths over a 9 year period, sort of puts it in perspective.  Lets take another example:  Unintentional Poisoning deaths for 2004 alone accounted for 19,250 deaths.  Multiply that by 9 years, and you get 173,250.

The point we're trying to make is that the numbers in fact don't represent the amount of attention each area gets, in general.  Now, are we saying we advocate chases based on these numbers?  No, we don't.  We believe any police chase or pursuit should be analyzed on a case by case basis, and not based on these numbers.  Would we terminate a chase for a minor traffic offense if the person was blowing traffic lights at 100 MPH.  You bet we would.  Would we terminate if its 3:00 in the morning and the roads are clear.  Not likely.

On a closing note, as a 10 year veteran police officer (at the time of the article), I've been in several chases and I've seen only a few fatalities.  Was it too many?  Yes.  One chase did change my views on pursuits all together, and that was when an innocent father and his two sons were hit by the running vehicle.  The chase was so quick (not by me), I don't know how you could possibly blame the police.  But the police officer simply turned around on a speeding vehicle and the vehicle immediately accelerated running the first stop sign (within one block), seriously injuring (if not killing this family, which I never found out the results).  Seeing and hearing the father lay on the ground seriously injured saying "Save my kids, save my kids" changed my views forever.  The runner however was half out of his vehicle, which appeared that he tried to run after the crash.  However, large opening to his skull appeared to have immediately caused his death.

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