Nov 20, 2020 in Law

Police Pursuits


The research paper covers one of the most widespread issues of the American justice police pursuits. It is a well known fact that the USA is the worlds automobile country. As a result, cars of many types and sizes are used not only by law-abiding citizens, but also by all the criminals and gangs. In addition, a very wide accessibility of cars to virtually all Americans causes one more negative effect: driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (which is actually a reason of the lions share of dangerous activities on the road) became almost common every-day offense in the highway patrol work. To put it bluntly, this kind of law violation can be committed by anyone even by the one, who can even seem to be unlikely to commit something deviant. According to the data from Fatality Analysis Revolving System (FARS), studied by L. Frisch and A. Plessinger (2005) and Injury Prevention journal (2004), every year about 350 fatal crashes connected with high speed police chases that happened all over the USA. The same fact is found in the work by J. Hill (2002). It means, that about one American dies every day in a result of the police car pursuit. That is why, it is especially actual topic for many years already, especially taking into account the fact, that the police pursuit can be provoked not only by a criminal, but also by an ordinary citizen under influence of some stuff or just for some other unpredictable reason.


Keywords: police chase, public safety, pursuits, car crashes

Police Pursuits and Their Danger

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John Hill (2002) classified the police pursuits, as well as their possible dangerous outcomes as not only law enforcement but also a public safety challenge. Today police pursuits are becoming especially relevant and important, since the number of vehicles increases every year. As a result, together with the appearance of a bigger quantity of cars, a bigger amount of police car chases occurs every year. Such tendency can be observed not only in the USA: Frisch and Plessinger (2005) say, that in the Great Britain, for example, the number of police pursuits with a mortal outcome tripled in the period of 1997-2003 in only 6 years. And this is data from only England and Wales, taking nor Scotland, nor Ireland into account. Observing situation in the USA, Frisch and Plessinger show even more shocking results: 7000 high speed police pursuits around California State took place only during a year 2003. Starting with 1920s-1930s, people of different social classes already saw the benefits from using vehicles. So did the criminals. But if 80-90 years ago, police pursuits were actually something more associated with mafia and happened in only several cities, such as Chicago and New York and almost nowhere else, today it is a problem of the police departments all over the United States and abroad.

Geoffrey Alpert (1997) in his research on this topic claims that the main dilemma, which the police officers always face is a case of a pursuit and whether to bust the suspect and get some benefits for that, or the threats towards the people around and the policemen themselves is not worth those benefits. And really, not only suspects and police officers chasing them are likely to be injured or killed during the pursuit: the ordinary people, who can just accidently appear in a dangerous zone of the occurring pursuit have surprisingly high chances to be severely injured or even get a deadly trauma. In order to prove it, let us see the facts shown by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for the year 1998: during that year, the number of people killed during the police pursuits was 314 individuals. Two of them were police officers, and 198 were the cased suspects, while the remaining 114 were the people who due to the fate appeared in a wrong place and in wrong time the ones who had no relation towards the pursuit, driving on the same motorway or just crossing the street by foot and even walking on the pavement. So, as we now see, it is a frightening thing, using the simple math: the chance of a random person to be killed, as well as the suspect because of a pursuit-related crash is almost 60 per cent! In this case, it is not so hard to understand, that these absolutely innocent victims have enormously high chances to appear in the suspects shoes. In addition, Rivara and Mack (2004) conclude that the number of victims and, especially, their deaths caused by police automobile chases is greater than due to any other kinds of police activities. Finally, the most terrible thing is shown by Frisch and Plessinger (2005) almost 200 suspects involved in police chases were 15 and fewer years old, including even drivers whose age was only 9-13 years old. 49 of them even died due to the crushes, trying to escape from the police patrol car. Having no driving license, as well as enough skills of controlling car, such young drivers, being just children do not have enough experience and a simple common sense to think of possible outcomes of such unwise actions. Such types of pursuits complicate the policemens task even more: on the one hand, nobody wants to get the responsibility for injuring and, especially, killing a child who somehow managed to take a car, but, on the other hand, letting such child go is also not a solution who knows what would happen with a car under control of a totally inexperienced juvenile driver? Such, and even more difficult decisions are made by the patrol officers every time they face the pursuit.

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The Police Pursuit Policies and Conclusion

The different states of the USA developed their own special policies of conducting the police pursuits. Alpert (1997) shows, that some states have more restrictive policies, allowing the police officers to start the chase only in particular situations, such as for example in Florida State, where the pursuit is allowed only in case if it is conducted for felony. Other states, such as Nebraska for example, according to the same source, have other way round more permissive policies connected with pursuits. As a result, which is actually quite logical, in the states with more restrictive policies, the number of police chases annually is lower than in the states with more permissive ones. Looking through all articles I did not find any data about the change of the number of injured and killed people during the police chases after the changes adopted in the observed state. What is more, not the only one, but several sources (Alpert (1997) and J. Hill (2002)) claim, that one of the significant reasons of so many deaths, due to pursuit-related crashes is lack of training of the police staff: only a few years ago, a proper training with combined practice and theory started. Earlier, only practice of disabling a suspects car was taught, but not the tactics and the risk estimation. The outcome, as we understand, is that the old school policemen know how to disable a fleeing car, but mostly have no idea when and in what conditions it is better to do so. And judging by all data I observed, no restrictions, as well as permissions, can be reviewed as the problem solution: all suspects must be stopped and get the deserved punishment. If the police officer is trained well enough no matter if the chase is conducted for felony or a non-felony: the practical knowledge combined with the tactical one will dramatically reduce the number of victims, as well as the risk of the pursuit in general, since in this case, police officer will know when to disable the suspects car, so that the severity of the outcome would be minimized or even nullified. And really: no special knowledge or high IQ is needed to crush and stop a fleeing car, but the laws of physics are something, which must be obligatory, taken into account, since the car which is in some way disabled cannot be controlled and surely cannot be stopped immediately. That is why, the training of tactical thinking in such situations is of vital importance and must not in any way be ignored, because just this is the main and the most weighty question of the safety during the pursuit and further responsibility of the police officers in case of an accident caused by the pursuit. Certainly, a lot of safety and responsibility factors depend on suspect, but they are not observed due to their unpredictability and the role of suspect in the chase: it is a police officers task to provide safety and order.


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