In an age of traffic cameras, satellite images, and police body cams, are police car chases necessary? It’s an important question because police car chases are dangerous and can lead to injuries and deaths.
A 2017 U.S. Justice Department report found that 355 people died annually in police car chases nationwide between 1996 and 2015 — a rate of nearly one per day. One-third of those killed were either pedestrians or motorists who were not even involved in the chase.
The statistics take on added meaning when you consider the vast number of recently hacked emails prepared for Chicago’s Mayor and marked “confidential. They reveal that 180 of the 270 CPD police chases in 2019 ended in crashes and eight people died. Supervisors ordered chases to be terminated in 112 of those pursuits, yet half of them still ended in crashes and deaths or injuries.
Frequent Changes in Pursuit Policies
Before CPD officers even begin a chase, they must decide whether the need to take a suspect into custody outweighs the dangers that the pursuit would pose. Considerations include the speed necessary to pursue the suspect, the amount of traffic and bystanders present and even the weather.
Despite the many changes over two decades to improve the pursuit policy, it wasn’t enough to prevent crashes like one last June that killed a Chicago mother of six and injured five others. Police officers had been told four times by their supervisor to stop chasing a suspect until finally, their car T-boned into the woman’s SUV.
Two months after that accident, a new policy went into effect, clarifying the language on how supervisors should work with officers to conduct a “balancing test,” weighing the risk of a chase against the risk of letting someone escape. Since then, no new data on police pursuits has been released.
Making Split-second Decisions a Challenge
As the law enforcement community searches for answers, two questions quickly come to mind Do the situations requiring a police car pursuit be changed? Should the CPD’s pursuit policy’s “balancing test” be rethought?
Since many of these life-and-death situations are often left to the officer’s judgment, better solutions and protocols must be found to make our streets and communities safer.