We read in this weekend’s news accounts that a Georgia State Patrol Trooper had been fired for failing to exercise “due regard” for the safety of the public while he was allegedly responding and on his way to aid another trooper involved in a high speed police chase on Interstate I-20. On New Years Eve, an innocent motorist was killed when this Georgia State Patrol Officer allegedly ran a red light and struck the vehicle occupied by the decedent.
Georgia law requires that all government personnel operating motor vehicles in “emergency situations” exercise due regard for the safety of all persons. Apparently, the internal review of the subject occurrence found that when the State Trooper ran the red light at a high speed while in route to the alleged need for assistance (a high speed police pursuit matter) he failed to exercise such due regard, ran the red light and thereby allegedly caused the fatal collision due to negligence. This review, apparently, has resulted in the termination of the involved trooper.
What the news accounts do not address is whether the underlying police pursuit was even justified. We do not know enough about the details to know whether the person being pursued in that action was merely being pursued for a traffic violation. It appears from some of the news accounts that the other trooper was chasing a motorcyclist because he was speeding.
It is hard to justify a high speed pursuit that could endanger innocent third parties simply to enforce a traffic violation. Proper police procedure requires that police officers involved in pursuits balance the need to immediately apprehend the offender against the potential danger to innocent third parties who could be by happenstance caught up in the chase. Since forty percent (40%) of all police pursuits end in crashes and because high speeds are typically involved, it is foreseeable that innocent third parties can be killed or maimed during any high speed pursuit. Thus, it appears that the initial pursuit was itself potentially unjustified, thus compounding this tragedy as yet another officer was trying to join a dangerous pursuit when it was unnecessary that he do so.
High speed pursuits are extremely dangerous as is graphically demonstrated by this tragic incident. A young woman lost her life because another police officer felt compelled to join in a high speed pursuit for a traffic violation. This type of mentality, that is the law enforcement’s penchant for high speed pursuits, has to be constantly reviewed because otherwise all innocent motorists are in the position of being endangered by such activity. While violent felons should be chased, because they are a danger to all, sound policy would dictate that there should be no dangerous high speed pursuit unless it is necessary that the offender be immediately apprehended for the safety of the public.
Because our law firm has seen the devastation that can be caused to innocent families in such matters, having been involved in numerous wrongful death actions resulting from unwarranted high speed pursuits (and assuming the reported facts are accurate), we applaud the actions of the Georgia State Patrol in terminating this officer. The involved officer should never have attempted to have join in an unwarranted police chase and he certainly should never have recklessly disregarded the safety of other motorists while attempting to do so. The Georgia State Patrol made the right decision but needs to go further and re-examine all of its policies relative to whether any high speed pursuit is warranted in situations where non-violent offenders are involved. Here, if a traffic offense is all that was involved, the Georgia State Patrol should also consider the wisdom of its policies in permitting the original pursuit, much less the need for “assistance” from other officers nearby.