Sunday, September 23, 2007

Blogversation on high-speed police pursuits

Reacting to a story in the Houston Chronicle, Jason has this post on BlogHouston basically arguing against any restrictions on high-speed police pursuits. Catonya critiques Jason's assumptions here, comparing them to federal research on the topic of deadly police pursuits.

Jason, a Houston police officer who blogs at Cigars, Donuts and Coffee, opines that "I have never seen an instance where a pursuit was terminated that the criminal slowed down and obeyed the traffic laws. When the police stop chasing, the criminal will continue fleeing at high speeds."

That's interesting, isn't it? How could an officer claim to know what a suspect did once they were out of his sight? It turns out, Jason's assumptions about how offenders react when police stop chasing are mostly wrong. Catonya writes:
Dr. Geoffrey Alpert is an internationally acknowledged expert on police pursuits. Complete results of his research are published in the U.S. Justice Department Research in Brief. “Basically, we learned that most suspects will respond to police officers who terminate their active attempt to chase. The fleeing suspects will continue until they feel safe and then either attempt to blend into traffic or “ditch” the car and run on foot. Suspects feel safe in a relatively short period of time and distance.”
Catonya quotes DOJ calculating that, "On an annual basis, deaths resulting from high speed chase incidents exceed deaths related to police discharge of firearms." One-third of high-speed chase deaths are innocent bystanders, she points out, and many more victims are police officers themselves.

Check out the links for a good debate on this important subject.

MORE: Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice thinks many officers enjoy high-speed chases. He also believes there's a:
natural cop need to teach a lesson to people who "just don't listen." Since a taser won't do any good when the other guy is in a car, high speed pursuit is the only recourse. After all, if the perp gets away, the cop can't show him who's boss and that you don't mess with a cop.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if there are any stats on how often a subject is apprehended after an officer calls off a chase.

Anonymous said...

Welcome the Big Lie Technique. The police officer makes a claim authoritatively, and the gullible assume it must be true, since why would he lie?

Obviously he's lying. Another related lie is that they never get away. I used to work in Barstow and monitored the radio traffic of the PD, SO, and HP. Guess what? Most of the time they got away.

See more at:

Note the author, Adolf Hitler.

Anonymous said...

How delicious, "The fleeing suspects will continue until they feel safe and then either attempt to blend into traffic or “ditch” the car and run on foot. Suspects feel safe in a relatively short period of time and distance.”

Anonymous said...

I appreciate Dr. Alpert's research but I must say, a sample of 144 chases seems rather small. I think more research is in order and a much larger sample be taken.

Anonymous said...

A high speed chase is a use of force and should be covered by a use of force policy but is that really practical? One car being chased by one police car can become fairly complicated and if one car is being chased by more than one police car from different departments (with different policies) dispatched by different agencies I don't see how there can be any effective control.

Catonya said...

The 144 cases was but one study done by Dr. Alpert. Data gathered from law enforcement agencies across the country repeatedly reflects comparable results.

Anonymous said...

Has a meta-analysis been done of these studies if you know?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't think Jason was lying, soured. I think he was saying what he believes, but officers can't know what suspects do out of their sight. In this case, according to Alpert's data, he was incorrect. And by the way, you've actually proved Godwin's law on the second comment - that's a record on Grits!

Maybe Cat has, but I haven't seen a meta-study on this subject. The city by city stats I've seen, though, remain pretty consistent, usually with bystanders making up a 30-40% of injuries and deaths.

Anonymous said...

There's car chases and then there's car chases where it appears every patrol car in the city is chasing a suspect. It makes for great drama on the 5 o'clock news. Even then, when watching the freeway and street chase, I'm holding my breath and praying that a bystander or another vehicle isn't slammed.

Cops who perceive themselves as just performing order maintenance, a chase probably does break up a rather boring day just like trying out their new tasers.

I've seen too many cops bust through red lights with their lights on just because they didn't want to wait. As soon as they're through the intersection, they resume their normal routine of patrol. This doesn't indict all patrol officers, but their actions aren't abberations, either.

There comes a time to end a chase when the danger of harm to others becomes overwhelmingly evident. There'll be someone of the road to get him. Make it more a relay race rather than a hot one man race. We know the original cop wants the collar but at what cost do we let him get it.