Police Pursuit Policies Changed: More Changes Needed

Finch McCranie has been representing innocent victims caught up in police chases for over a decade. While the police should chase violent felons who are endangering the public, many of these cases involve chases where the police are pursuing non-violent or mere traffic offenders at high speeds with the end result being a third party killed or injured, caught up by happenstance in the dangerous pursuit. We have long advocated that the police should pursue violent offenders where the risk of the chase to the public is justified by the risk to the public caused by the offender. If the suspect being pursued has merely violated a traffic law or has committed some other non-violent offense or felony, even if they are apprehended, they are liable to be sentenced to a very light fine and perhaps no incarceration. And yet, in order to chase such a suspect, the police are all too often willing to endanger the rights of the innocent motoring public. Unfortunately, innocent third parties are killed during these dangerous pursuits.
Recently, the City of Milwaukee changed its high speed pursuit policy. From now on, Milwaukee police officers must have probable cause that a violent felony has occurred before they will be authorized to pursue a fleeing suspect. This is because four (4) people have already been killed in 2010 in separate incidents by drivers fleeing from the Milwaukee police. The Police Chief of Milwaukee issued a statement in which he stated that he had to consider the risk to the public caused by the changes in evaluating his City’s policies. As he stated: “I have an obligation to my officers, despite the risk they are willing to take, to limit their risk of injury or death, to make sure that the danger represented by the suspect justifies the risk of violent death. All too often it clearly does not justify that risk.” While this is a welcome change in policy and a sensible and rational approach to police chases in general, many other jurisdictions have failed to adopt a similar policy. Accordingly, officers in many jurisdictions in Georgia and elsewhere continue to chase non-violent offenders at dangerously high speeds sometimes with the result that an innocent third party gets caught up in the chase by happenstance and loses their life or sustains serious and permanent injuries.
We have long advocated that the police should chase those where the risk posed to the public by the suspect is equal to or greater than the risk associated with these dangerous pursuits. However, if the suspect has merely committed a traffic offense or other non-violent offense, the risk of these dangerous pursuits to the public is simply too great. Simply stated, to impose the death penalty on an innocent third party in order to apprehend someone who is non-violent makes no sense.
We are pleased there has been a change in policy in Milwaukee and we can only hope that other police departments will consider changes in their policies. The myth that such policy changes actually encourage crime (by encouraging flight) has been proven over and over again to be a false myth. Those jurisdictions that adopt more restrictive police pursuit policies (such as Milwaukee) have not experienced an increase in crime or in flight cases. There is no reason not to change dangerous non-restrictive policies in a sensible, rational way as has the City of Milwaukee. We applaud Chief Edward Flynn for his stance in this regard. He is doing something that makes sense. We hope that other police chiefs and departments will follow suit.

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