High Speed Pursuits For Stolen Vehicles: Are They Justified?

When the police encounter a stolen vehicle and attempt to stop it with their blue lights and the driver takes off, the question is whether the public is well served when the police engage in a high speed pursuit thereafter. Clearly the suspect wishes to escape apprehension and is willing to travel at high speeds endangering the lives of the public. The only way they will be apprehended is if the police are successful during their pursuit in running them off the road, using stop sticks or otherwise blockading them. During the pursuit, however, the entire public is endangered and it is quite likely that as the speeds get higher and higher and the offender becomes more and more desperate at escaping apprehension the dangers will increase and tragedy to innocent third parties may result.
We see in these cases often where third parties are killed or injured during these pursuits. Is it worth a human life to capture a suspected car thief? Most car thieves are not caught through high speed pursuits but rather as a result of traditional law enforcement investigations. The few who are engaged in high speed pursuits, if they are allowed to escape, will hardly add to the number of those who are not immediately apprehended for their crimes. However, in order to immediately apprehend the suspected car thief during a high speed pursuit, the public has to be exposed to the possibility of death or serious injury. We raise the question again, is it worth it? Is the death of one or more worth it to apprehend a suspected car thief?
A case which happened on September 4, 2012, in California is illustrative of the dangers in these areas. The police were chasing a teenager for suspected car theft. The police asked for backup. While one of the patrol cars was attempting to join the pursuit, that second patrol car ran over and killed an innocent pedestrian. Thus, in order to immediately apprehend a 17-year old car thief, a pedestrian was killed during the pursuit. Was it worth it? Ask the family of the innocent pedestrian their opinion on this subject and the answer will be obvious.


Most members of the public are in favor of the police chasing criminals because we all want criminals apprehended. When you ask the question we pose in the abstract, the answer provided is usually given without reflection upon the cost of those who are injured or killed during these dangerous high speed pursuits. It is not worth a human life to catch a car thief. It is not worth a human life to chase a juvenile for suspected car theft at speeds which are likely to cause great injury or death. It is better to let the car thief go and to capture him later under safer circumstances than it is to kill innocent third parties simply to apprehend the suspected car thief.
We continue to advocate that high speed pursuits should be limited to pursuits of violent felons. If the suspect being pursued is not violent, it stands to reason that it is more dangerous to pursue the non-violent offender than it is to apprehend him at a safer time under safer circumstances. It should not result in the loss of a human life simply to catch a suspected juvenile joyriding car thief. The case in West Sacramento, California dramatically illustrates the point. Now we have a dead pedestrian and the 17-year old juvenile, who was joyriding, will be charged with murder. This is a tragedy all the way around which, of course, is the responsibility of the car thief. In no way do we mean to intimate that the car thief does not have responsibility for what he did. On the other hand, the death could have been prevented had the police not pursued this suspected car thief but let him temporarily escape so as to avoid the unnecessary loss of innocent life.

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