Innocent Pedestrian Killed During High Speed Police Pursuit

On February 5, 2012, a thirty-one year old woman was killed in a residential neighborhood as police officers were pursuing shoplifting suspects. The news accounts do not provide a great deal of information about what the suspects allegedly stole but tragically, again, the question arises in the context of these dangerous pursuits, is it worth risking a human life to apprehend a fleeing shoplifter? Could not other law enforcement techniques have been utilized to apprehend the suspects later, under much safer circumstances? Here, rather than wait for such safer circumstances, the police persisted in immediately pursuing the suspects at high speeds. During the pursuit, the suspects ran over and killed the innocent pedestrian.
We continue to advocate that proper police pursuit policy requires that pursuing officers only chase for violent offenses where the need to apprehend the suspect is clear and justifies the danger to the public caused by the pursuit itself. It is well recognized that in 40% of all police pursuits there is typically an automobile crash of some kind. It is foreseeable that innocent people can be injured or killed because hundreds are killed each year and thousands injured. Thus, it is difficult for the police to continue to argue that they have a need to pursue non-violent suspects exposing all members of the public to the possibility of death or serious injury in order to immediately apprehend them. There is no need to immediately apprehend a shoplifting suspect. Such a suspect can be apprehended later under safer circumstances using traditional law enforcement techniques.
The tragedy in these cases is experienced by the victim and their family. The public at large, of course, wants criminals to be apprehended and prosecuted, however, only when a member of the public loses a member of their family can they understand just how tragic these pursuit cases can be. While the police need to apprehend dangerous criminal suspects and should chase them when the need to do so is equal to the danger caused by a police pursuit, that is far different from saying that the police should chase every non-violent offender including shoplifters in order to immediately apprehend someone for a minor theft offense. While the criminal needs to be prosecuted, the public needs to be protected as well. To achieve this balance, pursuits should be restricted to those where it is necessary to immediately apprehend the suspect which, in all cases, would be the violent felon.

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