Saturday, January 28, 2006

Houston PD high-speed chase policy injures dozens each year

High speed chases are one of the most dangerous activities any law enforcement officer will ever engage in, and they threaten more people than just suspects and officers. In Houston, 676 police chases last year resulted in injuries to 79 people, 14 of them were civilians "not involved in the pursuit," reported the Houston Chronicle today ("HPD's pursuit policy will be reviewed," Jan. 28).

Adopting a highly defensive posture after 12-year old Kendall Batiste and his mother were critically injured as a result of a high speed chase by Houston PD on Friday, Chief Harold Hurtt announced the department would form a committee to review its chase policies, but he sounded like he's doing it against his will.

"Unfortunately, this is yet another incident in which a criminal whose blatant disregard for the law caused a tragedy to occur, not our police officers," the chief said in a statement. "It is the intent of our officers and our pursuit policy to safely apprehend fleeing suspects."

Last week's chase ended when the man being pursued, 31-year-old Jatinderjit Mann, of Spring, drove the wrong way on a Southwest Freeway ramp and crashed into a car carrying two women and a 9-month-old baby. No one was seriously injured. Mann was charged with aggravated assault and evading arrest.

As early as Wednesday, Hurtt said he saw no need to change the department's existing policy, which allows police to pursue anyone who flees until they or their supervisors deem the chase too dangerous.

"We have pursuits every day in this city. We have a number of them that have been successful," Hurtt said before turning to Friday's chase.

"If we had not chased the individual, is there a guarantee that he would have stopped and not run over the 12-year-old?" Hurtt said.
Well, actually Chief, since the driver was fleeing because of outstanding warrants, there's an excellent chance he wouldn't have continued speeding through town if police weren't chasing him. He wasn't doing so before. That's the point! He was previously an absconder over small time warrants -- hardly a character reference, but not life threatening for anybody in any way. Now two people are critically injured and if the boy dies, the supspect will be chargd with murder. The chase made things worse for everybody involved -- there was literally zero public safety benefit from the outcome that I can see.

Many times when cops chase people for penny ante stuff -- or worse, for no other reason than that they ran and the officer doesn't know why -- it's statistically unlikely that any public safety benefit outweighs the tremendous risk. Just ask the Batiste family whether this one was worth it - I bet the answer would be "no." Police department policies should take into account whether suspects are truly a danger to others -- they're brandishing a gun, for example, or drove their car through a crowd or on the sidewalk -- or whether the biggest danger to the public would actually be the chase itself.

Hurtt's new committee should recommend mimicking reforms implemented under former Chief Al Philippus in San Antonio, where officers can chase suspects in vehicles "only when the benefit of apprehension
outweighs the risk to the officer or the public." Reported the San Antonio Express News (4-7-01 - not online), SA's policy sets a "speed limit for pursuing officers of no more than 10 mph over the posted speed limit, prohibited chasing people for traffic violations and ruled that officers must come to full stops at red lights at all times"

That would preclude dangerous pursuits in urban areas over small-time foolishness like people fleeing to avoid arrest for unpaid traffic warrants, which is how most police chases start. In those instances, it's better all around for public safety if the officers call on their radios for other officers to intercept the suspect, or just get the license plate number and find the person later.

San Antonio PD's chase rules add a sense of proportionality to the chase process, balancing law enforcement's legitimate need for pursuits with the high importance of preserving public safety on the city streets. Hurtt's new committee should recommend that HPD follow their lead to protect officers, suspects and the public.

For Catonya.


TxGoodie said...

Too bad the mother (?) of the boy that was ejected didn't enforce the law about seatbelts. The cops aren't to blame for her laxness. As for the 'get the tag number and pick 'em up later' - who says the owner of the tag was the one doing the driving? Try and prove it in court. Cops catch people. That's what they are trained to do. Dogs smell butts and cops chase people. Whatever happened to accidents?

Catonya said...

Thank you Scott.
I wondered what offense spurred the Houston pursuit.

if I may...

Statistics show 1 person dies in a police pursuit every day in this country. The number of innocent bystanders who die is equal to the number of suspects. The majority of suspects flee over nothing more than a minor traffic violation. Statistics also show that the number of people who flee does not increase under more restrictive policy.

Police is an excellent source of information regarding pursuits and the need for policy revision. (it is a police run website)

Jim Phillips site Pursuit and Deadly site of pursuit expert Dr. Geoffrey Alpert are also excellent sources of information.

You don't have to like the statistics but it doesn't change them.

Perhaps the saddest truth regarding the need for change is that people like txgoodie won't "get it" until/unless they're suddenly faced with a reality that their child was in the wrong place at the wrong time and died because an officer just couldn't let that red light runner get away.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thank you, Cat.

And to txgoodie - if police routinely engage in an activity knowing up front there's a one in eight chance somebody will be seriously injured, much less that it's likely that person will be an innocent bystander, at some point it's not so much accidental as just a predictable outcome from a policy decision. San Antonio shows there's more options available than just to assume cops act with no more rationality than dogs sniffing each others' rears, which really is pretty insulting to cops, when you think about it. Best,

Anonymous said...

To chase or not to chase, that is the question. As Old Bill Shakespeare is rolling in his grave, I wonder whether any chase policy will work considering the practical limitations.

Just as I wouldn't want some cowboy cop like the one suing Houston's police department racing down the freeway in pursuit of his lost manhood, I wouldn't want his more rational co-workers to find their hands tied to a Monday Morning Quarterback approach either. If you make a policy of any sort so complicated or risky that no one will even bother, the chilling effect will soon cause the crooks to cause more accidents than the chases ever added to.

The trend seems to be that large cities are moving away from chasing crooks in high speed pursuits due to the accidents incurred but San Antonio's policy of only going 10 MPH over seems ridiculous at best considering that most drivers on a rainy day go faster than that over the speed limit.

I don't think you can find a proper balance by adding in dozens of restrictions; cops aren't going to chase anyone if they are going to lose their limited immunity thanks to overly restrictive policies. On the other hand, officers that use poor judgment should be placed on desk duty like that loudmouth on TV, Nixon(?) in the case of the recent chase or partnered up with more responsible cops that consider the safety of the public when they're off saving the world from itself.

I think the crooks that cause the chases should be tossed in jail, not given mental evaluations by people whose sole purpose in life is to explain away all societies ills as the result of twinkie depravation or some such factor. Maybe showing a couple years in jail is the result of causing a chase, with additional time for injuring others or causing damage to other property, is the answer.

Bindip Srindehar

PS: If a crook doesn't stop for the cops, he is then charged with not stopping, hardly a minor traffic offense as Cat states since it's a felony, but without changes in sentencing, it won't matter.

Anonymous said...

txgoodie said: Too bad the mother (?) of the boy that was ejected didn't enforce the law about seatbelts.

I guess I missed the part where the child had no seat belt. But even if he had a seat belt on, doesn't mean he would still be alive today.

When will the government stop trying to be our parents and let us make decisions on rather an adult should wear a seat belt? We are not children still are we? Yet we allow the government to treat us like children and tell us how to live our life.

Seat belts don't always save lives, I know this for a fact! I've been to over 6 wrecks where an occupant was killed due to them wearing a seatbelt, also my own brother was killed wearing a seat belt.

I do like "txgoodie" remark on the police being dogs and chasing and sniffing peoples butt. That is right on the mark! I will start using that quote on my web site.

TxGoodie said...

Bindip Srindehar? ( that a name or a condition?) - I agree with most of what you said... there needs to be some real consequences for those that would run from the police. Other than that, sorry Mr. Grits for causing such a just annoys me to see the cops being damned if they do and then damned if they don't. I've always been more partial to LEOs than YOYOs. Take care...stay safe....