The goal of all police officers is to keep the general public safe. Sometimes this means pursuing those who have committed crimes. But at what point does it become more hazardous to the public to attempt to catch the offender than letting the offender get away?
High-speed police chases have been the subject of debate for years. About the time it fades into the background, another innocent bystander or police officer is injured during the pursuit of justice. In Louisville, Kentucky, the latest victim of this type of car accident was a 31-year-old mother of three. She was on her lunch break from her job when she was killed by a driver trying to evade police in October 2012. Even though police say the high-speed chase lasted less than one minute, it was still long enough to take the woman's life.
On November 28, 2012, Steven Conrad, the Police Chief in Louisville announced a new high-speed pursuit policy to be followed by all LMPD officers. Starting December 7, 2012, officers will only be allowed to pursue at high speeds those who have committed a violent crime. This type of crime includes arson, rape, murder, robbery or kidnapping.
How does this differ from the previous policy? Before, police officers were given less guidance as to when to pursue an alleged felon at high speeds. There were rules as to the conditions of the roads and the likelihood of injuries, but who they were to pursue was a little vague. In the case mentioned above, the person being chased was allegedly involved in some type of drug crime, which by itself would not be a violent felony.
Conrad says this policy change is not a direct result of the October tragedy, but rather a decision he made after reviewing the last five years of police pursuit records. According to the data, Louisville police had been involved in 283 high-speed chases in that time period. Of those chases, 142 caused car crashes injuring 76 people and resulting in the wrongful deaths of 7 others. These figures only cover the LMPD, not the rest of Kentucky.
Oftentimes it is not the alleged felon who is injured in the car crashes, as the story above illustrates. It is frequently an innocent bystander or the officer himself who is injured in the crash. In September 2012, a police officer in Hodgenville, Kentucky was pursuing a car when he lost control of his cruiser and crashed. He was taken to the hospital, but died from his injuries. It is unclear from news reports why he was chasing the driver, who later turned himself in. He has been charged with fleeing from police and wanton endangerment, among others.
The Kentucky car accident attorneys at Miller and Falkner applaud all police officers who put their lives on the line every day for us. We are not in a position to question whether the split-second decisions they make are right or not because we are not in their shoes. But we hope that this new policy on high-speed chases will help keep everyone safer on the road.
LMPD Chief Steve Conrad releases new policy limiting chases to violent crimes; WHAS.com; November 28, 2012