Death To The Innocent: A Preventable Result of High Speed Pursuit Chases

We read in the paper about a tragic death which occurred in Pittsburg, Kansas on July 17 of this year. According to news accounts, deputy Sheriffs in Cherokee County, Kansas were pursuing a driver who had committed traffic violations. During the high speed pursuit, the fleeing suspect rear-ended another vehicle on the road resulting in the death of a 13-year old innocent victim. The child’s mother was taken to a nearby hospital but the news accounts released thus far do not indicate the severity of her injuries although losing her daughter obviously is catastrophic.
This news account is typical of many we read these days concerning high speed pursuits. The police continue to chase suspects for minor non-violent offenses. It is foreseeable that during a high speed pursuit a fleeing suspect may run a red light, run out of control or otherwise crash into another vehicle on the road occupied by the innocent. The best way to prevent the death penalty to the innocent is simply to terminate the pursuit.
The only person who has control over the outcome of a high speed pursuit is the professional law enforcement official involved. The suspect is obviously unwilling to be apprehended and is willing to take risks and expose innocent members of the public to the risks they are willing to assume for themselves. The one in control (the police officer) should never let the idiot fleeing driver be in control of the situation. All the police officer has to do is terminate the pursuit if they cannot apprehend the suspect safely. If there are other vehicles on the road at the time of the pursuit and it is clear that the suspect is driving dangerously, the pursuit needs to be terminated so as to prevent serious injury or death to innocent members of the public.
Many people who review these cases continue to support the actions of the police and blame only the fleeing suspect. Clearly, the fleeing suspect is to blame. However, experience indicates over and over again that it is foreseeable during high speed pursuits that the suspect and/or the police officer may lose control of their vehicle. If they do, the end result is the death penalty and/or serious injury to innocent members of the public who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. The question arises: Is it worth imposing the death penalty on the innocent in order to apprehend someone for a non-violent offense? The death penalty to the innocent could be prevented simply by terminating the pursuit even if it means allowing a non-violent offender to escape. Oftentimes, the offender can be apprehended at a later time through tag information, description of the vehicle, etc. The point to be made is that serious injuries and deaths during high speed pursuits are preventable if the professional officer involved controls the situation, exercises professional judgment and terminates the pursuit where the danger to the public presented by the chase itself is greater than the need to apprehend a non-violent suspect.

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