Gazette Editorial Board
It would be impossible to establish hard-and-fast thresholds or policies governing when police officers should engage a suspect in a high-speed chase.
Officers always will need some discretion when deciding when to pursue a fleeing suspect, and when to let them go.
Nonetheless police chases intended to apprehend dangerous subjects often result in property damage, injury, even loss of life.
That’s why we think local police departments should make sure policies encourage officers to chase only when those risks are clearly outweighed by imminent public safety risks.
Every decision to chase is unique and must take into account the offense, whether the fleeing driver is impaired, road and traffic conditions, and other factors. Perhaps not surprisingly, a recent Gazette analysis found that local law enforcement agencies have differing guidelines and practices regarding when officers should chase suspects fleeing by vehicle.
Some agencies are more restrictive — prohibiting pursuits for routine traffic violations, for example. With exceptions for unusual circumstances, we think that’s a reasonable course to take.
At the same time, that Gazette analysis shows that in nearby Cedar Rapids, nearly half of the police-involved 55 vehicular pursuits since January 2012 ended in an accident. Twenty-four resulted in damage to property — signs, vehicles, buildings or other objects. Four chases resulted in personal injury.
The worst-case scenario: The chase ends in death, like last month, when a 30-year-old man was killed while trying to elude police in Marion.
It’s true, it can be difficult for police to apprehend a suspect after the fact. Fewer chases likely will mean more suspects get away, at least for the moment.
But unless their immediate apprehension is worth the serious risks inherent to chasing, that’s a price worth paying.
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