Emergency crews are the first responders on scene to aid those who are seriously injured, ill or in trouble. However, some of those same workers may be imperiling innocent people by engaging in actions that do little to promote public safety.
Specifically, we’re talking about police and high-speed chases.
A recent report from USA Today found that from 1979 through 2013, nearly 5,100 innocent bystanders and passengers have been killed as a result of high-speed chases. Tens of thousands more have been seriously injured. Those figures do not include the number of officers killed, nor do they include the number of suspects who eluded authorities, initiating the chase.
In many of these chases, vehicles reach speeds in excess of 50- or even 80-to-100 mph. But the worst part is, many begin with minor traffic infractions or misdemeanor-level crimes. To be fair, a number of those individuals were later found to have committed felonies or had felony warrants. But that information isn’t often known to police at the time they give chase, and there is a fair amount of criticism about whether putting people’s lives in jeopardy for misdemeanor crimes is worth it. In fact, police may reach high levels of speed through hazardous conditions just to catch someone who has fled after committing a minor infraction. There are many who say police agencies need tighter policies in place to limit those kind of actions to cases where it is truly necessary.
The auto collisions that result from high-speed chases are often fatal because, frankly, speed kills. Factor that with the mentality of a person who is panicked and officers who are running on adrenaline, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Consider that just so far this year:
- A 60-year-old federal worker was killed in Washington, D.C. in March when a driver struck him while being chased by police for driving without his headlights on.
- A 63-year-old grandmother in Indiana was killed in June after being struck by a driver who was fleeing police after allegedly committing minor theft from a retail store.
- A 25-year-old in New Jersey was killed by a man who was fleeing police chasing him for failure to stop at a red light.
The underlying offenses here are no doubt against the law. But are they worth risking public safety in order to stop the suspect? Many would say no.
Some police officials say it is suspicious that a driver would flee for a minor offense, which is why authorities often later find there is more to the story. Cops also say that chasing suspects who flee serves to maintain law and order. If everyone knew they could simply drive away from an officer in order to evade consequences, there are those who would certainly do that.
But it’s not just innocent civilians who are put at risk either. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly 140 police officers have been killed in high-speed chases. In fact, it’s widely regarded as one of the most dangerous activities in which officers can engage.
Almost as many people die in police motor vehicle chases as do in justifiable shootings every year, the DOJ says.
Hard-and-fast rules are often not in place, as many police agencies allow officers to make on-the-spot judgment calls regarding whether to give chase, based on their personal perceptions of that suspect’s potential danger to the public. But even where stricter policies exist (for example, in Orlando, where departments only allow the chase of violent felons), there is evidence a fair number of officers continue to violate them.
When we factor in the total number of people killed in police chases – suspects, bystanders, passengers and police – from 1970 through 2013, it turns out to be more than 11,500. That’s an average of nearly 330 a year, or almost one person every day.
Whether a local government can be liable for the resulting injuries or deaths depends heavily on the circumstances of the case. An experienced car accident attorney can help you determine the strength of your case.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
High-speed police chases have killed thousands of innocent bystanders, July 30, 2015, By Thomas Frank, USA Today
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De Los Santos v. Brink – Vicarious Liability Limited to $600,000 in Florida Crash Case, July 29, 2015, West Palm Beach Car Accident Attorney Blog