On average one person dies every day due to police chases (1). 42% of those killed in police chases are innocent bystanders (1). The significance of these statistics is misleading because there is no requirement to report statistics concerning bystanders killed in police chases (2). In fact there may be as many as 4 deaths every day due to police chases (2). This equates a yearly total of almost 1,500 deaths due to police chases.
While it is clearly necessary for police to chase some offenders, most chases are not used to apprehend violent offenders (1). Many innocents are killed in order to apprehend perpetrators of traffic violations or other nonviolent offenses. In addition to innocent bystanders, police officers are also regularly killed in order to chase nonviolent criminals (1). The risk to reward ratio in the majority of police chases clearly dictates that they should be discontinued. This is especially the case in urban areas because “the most common terminating factor for an urban pursuit is a crash at an intersection.” (1).
Police chases are also dangerous in rural or suburban areas, in total 35%-40% of all police chases end in crashes (4). This percentage is appallingly high. This is explained by one study that found “training devoted to when -or why- to pursue appears to [be] minimal or non-existent” (4). The casualties of police chases could be drastically reduced by more restrictive chase policies, and the addition of police chase training. However, these actions will have minimal effectiveness in states that have given police “immunity against action taken against them for death/injury of innocent bystanders regardless of their adherence to or lack thereof to police chase policies.” (3).
The dangers of unnecessary police chases aren’t often publicized, but their impact throughout the country is immense. The majority of police chases and injuries to innocent bystanders could be avoided, but not until new laws are put in place to curtail unnecessary chases and penalize officers who injure innocent bystanders.
- California Vehicle Code Section 17004.7
- National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund, Inc. (NLEOMF). (October 7, 1997). Police Pursuits Prove Deadly.