Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Texas leads nation in 2007 officer deaths

Could police departments reduce officer deaths on the road by altering high-speed chase policies?

That's the question that comes to mind after reading this report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund declaring that Texas leads the nation in officer deaths so far in 2007. Thirteen Texas police officers died in the first half of 2007, compared to 8 in North Carolina, 6 in New York, 5 in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, and 4 in California, Louisiana and Maryland. The majority of deaths were from traffic accidents, with shootings the second highest cause.

On Monday constables undertook a high speed chase in Dallas that reached speeds up to 100 miles per hour. Reported a local TV station:
Dallas County's chase policy is left up to the discretion of the officer.

"If the vehicle flees, [an officer] has authorization to pursue," said Chief Deputy McKnight. "He also has authorization to call the chase off if he deems it too risky."

Monday, officers remained in hot pursuit of Teague, even when his speed neared 100 miles an hour.
Such chases not only put officers at risk but the suspect, other motorists and bystanders, and policies like the one in Dallas County might explain why Texas' number of officer deaths are so much higher than other states. According to the FBI, "traffic pursuits/stops" is the most common cause of officer fatalities.

The Amarillo Globe News ("Texas has 13 officer deaths," Aug. 1) suggested another interesting hypothesis why the number of police traffic deaths has risen:

Another theory that may explain the accidents is the amount of technology in police cars these days.

"There is so much stuff in there. It's like a spaceship," [Public Information Officer Danny] Alexander said.

Lt. Michael Miller, Traffic Investigations Unit commander of the Amarillo Police Department, said all that equipment can be a distraction.

"There's cameras, computer systems, printers and radios and sirens. There's a lot of equipment that the officers are responsible for, and they can be a distraction," he said. "We try to limit those, but, unfortunately, the nature of the beast is those are needed."

Miller said officers are instructed to pull over if they need to access information while driving.

He also said more safety devices have been installed on patrol cars like back-up warning systems.

[Potter County Sheriff Mike] Shumate said technology may be a contributing factor, but inattentive drivers and police officers also are to blame.

"We're constantly looking at that as administrators - can we overload our cars with too much junk? It's officers who aren't sometimes paying enough attention as they should, and people talking on their cell phones and not paying attention," Shumate said.

Clearly something odd is going on when California has 1/3 the police fatalities as Texas. After all, their population is more than half again greater. Is it because Texas departments maintain outdated high-speed chase policies? Is it because we've loaded up police cars to the point officers become too distracted to drive safely? Is there some other reason? I don't know, but the data raises questions every department in the state should be asking itself. This is one list where Texans can take no pride in declaring "We're #1."


Anonymous said...

High speed chases and the risk of officer death is just the tip of the iceberg. How many traffic accidents are police involved in? How much damage, injury and death are police responsible for?

These guys are responsible for public safety, they're our best and only hope. Just because police have an 'excause' doesn't make it right that they constantly drive like idiots!

Anonymous said...

where has common sense gone??? you cant expect police not to go after offenders if there was a no pursuit policy all you would ave to do is run. With pursuits an officer must be able to make a good decision as to when to carry on and when to terminate the pursuit. I mean to say there is no good reason to continue a high risk/high speed pursuit through urban areas for minor infractions. but the officer must weigh the infraction aginst the risk to public safety.

Anonymous said...

Why should they pursue at all? Routinely, they enter the vehicle's license plate number in their database, so if the suspect flees, they have some ability to trace the vehicle. This is about common sense. Officers should use professional discretion.

Anonymous said...

Why should they persue at all? Are you kidding?

So, let me get this right. Police shouldn't pursue the bank robber who races away from the scene perhaps, in a stolen vehicle. We're going to assume that the license plate number belongs to the crook? Unbelievable!

Anonymous said...

In most cases they shouldn't pursue. The bank robber, yes. But not the speeder or the guy who failed to signal a lane change. If you know someone robbed a bank or that a car is stolen then there's a legitimate reason for a high speed chase. But not every time some punk decides to rabbit - in most cases it's over small time stuff and the risk to the officer and the public isn't worth it.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the article mentioned not only pursuits but traffic stops. Should we increase roadside cameras and receive the ticket in the mail?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Should we increase roadside cameras and receive the ticket in the mail?"

the cameras have their own problems and are not a substitute for officers on the street. 99.9+% of people pull over without incident. The question is whether high speed chases are justified when someone ONLY wanted for a traffic violation or other C misdemeanor flees. IMO eliminating chases in those circumstances is a minimal change that would improve safety and still allow for routine traffic enforcement.

Anonymous said...

Amazing. Only you can turn a story about dead cops into a "blame the cops for their own death" story. Were any of the 13 deaths a result of a pursuit? Or did you just specutlate to slant the story your way?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ 8:10 - What an idiot! I took a story about dead cops and turned it into a story about how changing policies could prevent more cops dying. I guess you'd rather praise a dead hero than send a live one home to their family at night, but that's not my preference.

And the stats from this group didn't break down causes by state - the information was presented as a national aggregate. But as an example, "In Houston, 676 police chases [in 2005] resulted in injuries to 79 people, 14 of them were civilians not involved in the pursuit." Unless you're foolish enough to think all of the other 64 injured who were "involved in the pursuit" were crooks, not cops, it's pretty clear high speed chases are one of the more dangerous activities police ever engage in.

Anonymous said...

You dodged the question and confused the issue. If no cops were killed as a result of high speed chases, why slant the story the way you did?

A separate issue is the propriety of high speed chases by police. I agree that police should use much better judgment in deciding whether to engage in these chases. Simply because I have the temerity to disagree with you does not make me an idiot.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I didn't dodge the question, I told you the group didn't provide the stats you asked for and provided what information I had on the topic.

And it's not true that no cops died of high speed chases, I just don't know the number in Texas - the FBI stats say nationally it's the most common cause of police deaths.

Finally, I called you an idiot for the ridiculous interpretation that I'm blaming police officers for their own deaths. If you think that, you ARE an idiot. Moreover, if you now think that police should use "much better judgment" than they currently do in high speed chases, I honestly don't understand what is your complaint. You go farther than me! I don't think it's bad judgment by the officers, I think it's a bad policy by police management. The cops are doing what their departments train and command them to do. Now who's blaming the officers?

Anonymous said...

The Amarillo paper focused on the study finding that traffic accidents were the largest category of deaths, I don't see why Grits should be criticized for taking the same tack or suggesting solutions to reduce deaths. What's wrong with that, 9:09?

Anonymous said...

Grits you are a idiot. When need the Police call somebody else.

Anonymous said...

Forgot the you.That will give you something to talk about.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If you think the opinion of somebody too cowardly to sign their name to such statements bothers me much, 10:16, you've got another think coming. I don't know why you oppose exploring policies to reduce police deaths in traffic accidents, but it's not a very smart approach.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know why you oppose exploring policies to reduce police deaths in traffic accidents"

I'll tell you why. Because the writer is a cop and high speed chases are the funnest part of his job. Being a cop is boring most of the time, but those situations that give you a big adrenaline rush and make you feel like one of those hotshots in the movies is what some of those guys became cops for. He's not worried about safety, he just thinks driving fast is fun (because it is) and he's mad that someone might tell him not to.

Anonymous said...

To 7:23
most peace officers do NOT enjoy high speed chases; they are very dangerous. Why pursue you ask?

This week in East Texas, a pursuit ended when DPS Troopers shot the tires of the fleeing vehicle. The perp fled on foot. Inside the trunk was an eldery woman who had been kidnapped and murdered. The perp was tracked and caught. He had abducted another woman previously.

That it the reason for pursuits; what is the person fleeing from? Just a ticket?

Do innocent persons sometimes get hurt or worse? Yes. Do peace officers sometimes get hurt or worse? Yes. That is the reality.

Anonymous said...

It's well known that vehicle stops are high risk for a patrol officer since they often lead to a violent interaction. Consider even the DUI stop --- an individual not in control of his/her impulses and reactions may take actions they wouldn't ordinarily, like using a weapon or refusing to stop and putting others in danger with their high-speed and otherwise risky driving. Officers may need more split-second defensive driving training or clearly defined circumstances for when a high-speed pursuit is less risky for bystanders. Yes, the license is called in and others may join in the attempt to stop the vehicle is a more cautious way. If we improve police training and make their communications systems talk to each other, we might be able to reduce the risk to the officer and the citizen.