Police Chases and Russian Roulette: Death Penalty for the Innocent

We read today about a deadly police chase which occurred over the weekend which is both tragic but also unbelievable. In this particular case, the police were chasing a 20-year old male in Pennsylvania allegedly for driving a vehicle which was reported as stolen. During the high speed pursuit which ensued, the police chased this individual through, according to news accounts, “39 stop signs and/or stop lights.” In other words, during this pursuit, the police witnessed this individual as a result of the high speed pursuit run 39 stop signs and red lights!! What were they thinking??? Were they thinking at all?? Did they actually believe that the subject was suddenly going to pull over during these many dangerous traffic violations?? Did not they not realize that the more times the suspect ran a red light or stop sign the greater the likelihood of death to the innocent??? Was it not foreseeable at all times that an innocent person could be killed or seriously injured because of the chase itself? Was the recovery of a stolen vehicle worth the price that was paid by the innocent victim? 39 times the trigger was pulled during this dangerous game of Russian Roulette. The last time was the killer.
This is one of the worst violations of proper police procedure we have read about. The police know that when a high speed pursuit occurs there is always the risk of serious injury or death to the innocent. These risks greatly increase when a suspect indicates his or her willingness to escape apprehension at all costs. The more dangerous they drive in their escape attempt, the more likely and foreseeable it becomes that an innocent third party on the road can be seriously injured or killed. Here, the police were presented with irrefutable evidence that someone might be seriously injured or killed during the dangerous chase and yet they kept the pursuit up, according to the news accounts, through two different cities. For what – a stolen vehicle! Not a rapist, murder or carjacker – a car thief. Does this crime justify the death penalty on the innocent?
It was entirely foreseeable under the events that occurred in this case that someone would be seriously injured or killed. The police should have terminated their pursuit after the suspect ran the first red light or stop sign. It is incredible that others were not injured earlier since the suspect was willing to engage in such dangerous behavior and since the police knew it. In our judgment, the police are largely accountable for this tragedy. The innocent victim, a 42-year old female, died of her injuries the day after the collision. She was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. The police are the only people who could have prevented this tragedy by terminating the pursuit. The suspect caused all of this – to be sure – by violating the law, by stealing the car and by driving dangerously. But the police contributed to the tragedy. If they had terminated their pursuit, the suspect would have had no need to continue fleeing at high speeds, running numerous red lights and stop signs in the process. Suspects do not wish to be apprehended in stolen vehicles because they can be prosecuted for stealing the car or being in possession of a stolen car. If the chase is terminated, they will in all likelihood drive down a side road and ditch the car so they cannot be found to be in possession of it. Had the police terminated this pursuit early on it is highly likely that this tragedy would never have occurred.
Policies and procedures that are designed to minimize and/or eliminate the risk attendant to high speed pursuits are not worth the paper they are written on if they are not enforced. There needs to be accountability if these policies are ever going to save innocent lives. In this particular case, the police department involved should carefully review the acts of its officers. There was clearly a lack of supervision over this officer. The pursuing officer was caught up in adrenaline and heat of the chase and continued chasing with deadly results. Both the supervisor and the officer should be held accountable for their acts. In our judgment, there was a reckless disregard of proper police procedure here and most experts who review the facts reported in the media would agree with this assessment. While obviously the facts reported in the media are incomplete and we do not know all the details, based upon what we have read, it seems clear that under the facts presented in this particular case that the police engaged in a very dangerous game of Russian Roulette. It was inevitable that someone would be seriously injured or killed if the pursued suspect kept running red lights and stop signs at high speeds. Unfortunately that is exactly what happened. The innocent victim paid the price as always occurs when the police recklessly disregard proper procedure and fail to terminate chases where the chase is more dangerous than the suspect being pursued.
Hopefully – one day – the police will chase violent felons only. Such dangerous persons need to be apprehended and a chase of a violent felon justifies the dangers of a dangerous chase. The chase of a non-violent felon – does not. One day soon, hopefully, the law enforcement community will acknowledge that pursuits like these should never occur.

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