Although much more national attention has been drawn over the past year to the death of citizens in officer-involved shootings, a strong argument can be made that equally as much attention should be directed at high-speed police chases that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people over the past few decades. Through a comprehensive analysis of the incomplete records kept nationally, USA Today has determined that more than 11,500 people died in police chases from 1979 through 2013, and tens of thousands more were injured.
On a national level, the list of those innocent lives taken during these chases is heartbreaking.
In New Jersey last month, for example, a 25-year-old man was killed by a driver chased by police for running a red light, USA Today reported. In June, a 63-year-old grandmother in Indianapolis was killed by a driver police had chased for four miles for shoplifting. And in March, a 60-year-old federal worker was killed by a driver police were chasing because his headlights were off.
In a particularly horrifying case, siblings Makiah Jackson, 3, and Michaelangelo Jackson, 6, were killed when the vehicle carrying a fleeing suspect hit them. Three other children were also injured in that incident in Detroit in late June, USA Today reported.
South Carolina has not been spared the loss of innocent life during high-speed chases by law enforcement. On Christmas night last year, 22-year-old Taylor Miller of Simpsonville died when the car in which he was a passenger was hit by a Highway Patrol trooper who was in pursuit of another vehicle that had sped through a safety checkpoint on State 125 near Woodside Avenue.
The collision took place at the intersection of State 291 and Rutherford Road as the second trooper in pursuit of the car collided with the SUV in which Miller was a passenger. The driver of the car Miller was in was charged with felony DUI and failure to yield to an emergency vehicle. The chase took place shortly before midnight and the troopers reached speeds of 90 miles per hour.
In that case, the trooper stayed in touch with the officer on duty, and in answer to a question about traffic conditions, made the decision to continue the chase after reporting "zero traffic" in the area, according to a Greenville News story. The state Department of Public Safety vehicle-and-foot pursuit policy allows vehicle pursuits "only when the necessity of the apprehension of a suspect outweighs the risks created by the pursuit."
In another one of the several cases in the past couple of years that ended with a fatality, a 70-year-old man in Travelers Rest was killed when a SUV driver hit speeds of at least 100 mph going through Travelers Rest as he was fleeing from police. The episode began about 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday in April 2014, and the officer reported giving up pursuit "a few minutes before" the accident occurred, according to a Greenville News story.
At issue is when does the danger of allowing a suspect to flee override the critical need to protect the lives of innocent citizens, including passengers in the vehicle trying to avoid being stopped by police. The argument obviously can be made that if law enforcement never chased anyone other than someone assumed to have committed a felony, officers over time will have a more difficult time getting numerous vehicles to stop. As one law enforcement official said, vehicles over time would become a safe storage unit for drugs or weapons if the suspects knew they would not be chased.
High-speed chases clearly put the lives of innocent people at risk. Of the 11,506 killed as a result of such pursuits from 1979 through 2013, 6,300 were the fleeing drivers. Another 5,100 were passengers in the fleeing vehicle, in another vehicle or bystanders as the two Detroit children were. Another 139 law enforcement officers lost their lives during such chases during this time frame. These numbers surely are understated because USA Today found some law enforcement agencies do not keep reliable statistics.
"A pursuit is probably the most unique and dangerous job law enforcement can do," Tulsa Police Maj. Trevor Yates, who runs a pursuit-training academy, told USA Today.
Making the issue even more troubling is that most of the fleeing suspects are likely avoiding offenses such as driving under suspension or driving while intoxicated. Almost a third of the suspects in one report had stolen the vehicle they were driving.
Losing this many people as the result of high-speed police chases should cause every law enforcement agency to review their protocols and look for ways to discourage such chases. It also should send law enforcement agencies rushing to embrace new technology that could eliminate the need for such pursuits. Some technology hasn't been perfected or is expensive — such as shooting a GPS tag to the vehicle — but that shouldn't discourage aggressive research for alternatives to dangerous high-speed chases.
--From The Greenville News via The Associated Press