High-speed chases

Not long ago, my husband was watching a police chase via live feed on Facebook. The chase covered a long distance, all the way from Inglewood (near central LA) to Kern County, 92 miles to the north. But what’s interesting about this case was the time it took: 2 hours.

Now, I’ve made that drive quite a few times myself—albeit not in a stolen Mercedes—and yes, when traffic is heavy it can certainly take that long. And when you have two little kids in the car with you who decide they need to pee with great frequency? It can take even longer. But you’d think someone eluding the police would manage better than 45 mph, right?

We’ve all seen exciting high-speed chases. I have two fictional movie favorites: Blues Brothers and Raising Arizona. And in real life, high-speed chases do happen. But they’re risky to the officers involved and to innocent bystanders. One study says that since 1979, over 11,000 people have been killed in high-speed chases. Over 5000 of those people were non-violators and 139 were police officers. Years ago, one of my students was doing a police ride-along when other cars got involved in a high-speed pursuit. The fleeing suspect ran over woman and her baby as she pushed a stroller through a crosswalk.

Not only have innocent people died or been injured during high-speed pursuits, but sometimes police departments get slapped with lawsuits by people who were injured or received property damage.

For these reasons, some agencies have banned high-speed pursuits completely. They’ve determined that it’s better to let a bad guy go free than risk everyone else. Most agencies haven’t gone that far, but they usually have policies in place that restrict high-speed pursuits to situations where they consider the suspect a danger to others. They may, however, use helicopters, drones, and other technology to keep tabs on a suspect in a low-speed chase. Or they can just follow him slowly, as happened most famously when OJ Simpson was arrested. In the case my husband was watching, the suspect was apparently wanted initially for trashing a hotel room.

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