High Speed Police Chase Injuries
According to a USA Today analysis, more than 5,000 bystanders and passengers have been killed in police car chases since 1979—and thousands more injured. Far too often, police officers pursue suspects in high speed chases, putting others at risk, often for a relatively minor infraction. In fact, the passengers in a car being chased by police officer at high speeds, as well as totally innocent bystanders account for almost half of those killed in those pursuits between 1979 and 2013. Unfortunately, a significant number of these deaths are the result of police chasing a suspect for a relatively minor misdemeanor or even a traffic violation. Some of the more recent deaths include:
- Very recently, a Jackson, Mississippi 34-year-old father—and an innocent bystander—was killed as police chased three people suspected of shoplifting computer equipment at the Wal-Mart on U.S. 80.
- Earlier in 2016, three innocent people, including a 75-year old woman and her 6-year-old granddaughter and 12-year-old grandson were killed in Georgia as police pursued a suspect who was suspected of stealing a car. The suspect fled after hitting the three people and has not yet been located.
- In December, 2015, in Harrison County, Mississippi, a Saucier woman was killed as deputies attempted to stop the vehicle for reckless driving. As the woman fled to Wolf River Road, she lost control of the vehicle, flipping it several times. A male passenger in the vehicle is listed in critical condition.
Police Policies on High Speed Chases
In 2012, the Jackson Free Press published an article titled Code Blue: Police Pursuits Cost a Life a Day, which detailed a number of deaths of innocent bystanders during a police high speed chase. The Mississippi Department of Standards and Training offers “suggested” policies for high speed chases in the state, however though each law enforcement agency must adopt a policy on the issue, the laws do not require that those policies adhere to the suggested policies.
As an example, the Ridgeland Police Department has a fairly restrictive policy on high speed chases, meaning officers are only allowed to engage in such pursuit in the case of a violent felony or when a criminal demonstrates a serious and immediate threat to the public. However, some courts have ruled that fleeing from the police is a violent act in and of itself, giving officers pretty much carte blanche for engaging in high speed chases.
High Speed Police Chases Tied to The Thrill of the Chase?
At least one expert has said the number of high speed police pursuits, even in the face of harm to the public, could literally be about the thrill of the chase. Robert Homant a professor who teaches criminal justice at the University of Detroit Mercy has published numerous studies detailing his research on the issue of high speed police chases. Homant believes the thrill of the chase and the resulting rush of adrenaline can factor in to an officer’s decision of whether to pursue a fleeing suspect or not. Other officers described the reasons behind pursuing a non-violent criminal as “not wanting to be beaten by the person eluding them.”
High Speed Chases Largely Tied to Traffic Offenses or Misdemeanors
A group known as Voices Insisting on Pursuit Safety has tracked the number of innocent deaths related to high speed police chases since 2004, concluding that an average of seven people die as a result of high speed police chases every week—a death a day—and that more than a third of those deaths are innocent bystanders. The state of California conducted its own studies regarding high speed police chases and found that 90 of the high speed police chases on record were police chasing a suspect who was driving too slowly.
California officials also found that only five percent of all the high speed chases in the state were in for officers in pursuit of a violent criminal. John Firman of the International Association of Chiefs of Police surveyed 17,000 high speed police chases across the nation since 2001. Firman found that 92 percent of those high speed chases began with a traffic violation, misdemeanor or a non-violent felony.
Alternate Methods to Catching Offenders
New technologies have offered alternate methods, aside from high speed police chases—to catch offenders. High-speed resolution cameras can capture license plate numbers, helping to identify suspects, and criminal databases offers officers easy access to suspect information. Stop sticks—spike strips which can puncture tires—offer an alternative to chasing a fleeing vehicle. In Los Angeles, a technology known as StarChase was introduced in 2006.
The system, mounted on the front of police cars, can fire a GPS tracking device onto a fleeing vehicle. This allows police to stop the high speed chase—and the risks to civilians—while still being able to track the suspects. The Justice Department called high speed chases “the most dangerous of all ordinary police activities,” urging departments to adopt policies which are very detailed about when an officer can and cannot pursue a suspect.
Balancing the Need for Criminal Apprehension with Risk to Innocent Bystanders
High speed pursuit of suspects by the police is extremely controversial, as the number of deaths which occur each year as a result of these chases “far exceeds that due to any other police activity.” Those who have lost family members or have been seriously injured from a high speed police chase should speak with a knowledgeable Mississippi personal injury attorney from Stroud, Flechas & Dalton. We understand how difficult it can be to be left with the death of a loved one or with serious injuries when you were nothing more than an innocent bystander. Stroud, Flechas & Dalton believes Mississippi police departments should be held accountable when their officers make the decision to engage in a high speed police chase, knowing others could be injured or killed. Call Stroud, Flechas & Dalton today at (662) 536-5656, or fill out the contact form on the right.