Police Recklessness Is Often to Blame, Reforms Needed
Movies and television often portray police car chases as vital to catching criminals. The pursuit of known violent criminals who are likely to harm others may very well justify this otherwise dangerous police activity. The reality is unnecessary pursuits, which tragically occur too often, disregard the safety of uninvolved innocent drivers and bystanders.
Crashes during law enforcement pursuits actually killed more than 7,000 people nationwide between 1996 and 2015, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly 30 percent of those killed were in vehicles of innocent citizens uninvolved in the pursuits, 4 percent were bystanders including children in both.
The financial circumstances and personal losses suffered by families of the deceased are heart-breaking. On June 3, a crash on Chicago’s North Side that killed a 37-year-old family man occurred as police chased a shooting suspect at speeds of up to 100 mph. Video shows the police car striking the man’s SUV so hard that the vehicles seemed to explode.
In Rockford, Joy Lambert a bank manager, on her way to work on a Monday morning was killed by a vehicle being pursued by police for a traffic violation at speeds well above 80 mph in a residential and elementary school area. The crash happened five months after the Winnebago County Sheriff significantly loosened restrictions on police pursuits. As a result, the approximate number of police pursuits rose a whopping 1300% from an average of about 15 per year in 2012-2014 to well over 200 per year in 2016-18 and rose dramatically in the few months after the new aggressive policy was initiated and the tragic death of the innocent Rockford wife and mother of 5 children.
Orders from supervisors/dispatchers to slow or terminate pursuits are too often delayed or even ignored. A study in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin in 2010 showed that some officers balk at allowing a traffic suspect to drive off, even if it’s the safer option. Additionally, researchers have found that chases produce an adrenaline rush which can impair officers’ motor skills and result in diminished vehicle control.
Chicago police policy requires that officers use a “balancing test” to determine whether the need to catch a suspect outweighs the dangers created by a high speed chase. In addition, technology is available that offers alternatives to unnecessary chases, such as magnetized GPS devices that can be propelled onto a suspect’s car, enabling police to stop and track the signal.
Crashes, which often result in catastrophic injuries as well as deaths, highlight a need for police reform that is too often overlooked: Hundreds of deadly crashes involving police chases occur each year. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, for one, has gone on record noting the urgent need for tighter rules about when police can pursue high-speed chases.
Lawyers at Smith LaCien LLP believe that when a police car chase results in the injury or death of an innocent bystander or other drivers, the responsible parties should be held accountable for damages. If you think you may have a case, contact us today at [email protected] or call 312-509-8900.