Time to Talk about High-Speed Chases?

By Nick Braune
Mid-Valley Town Crier
by permission

From the Brownsville Herald: “Two
Edinburg teens killed in high speed police chase.” A third teen from Brownsville also died as a result of the April 6 incident. I have been impelled to comment on this tragic incident.
I am not researching it in particular, looking for background information,
calling the family or the police for follow-up, etc. I intend to make no judgment
on the accident either. I am surely not criticizing the police force here,
having clipped only one newspaper column on the incident. I simply will suggest
to my readers at the end of the column that we greatly curtail police automobile
pursuits. Maybe we need a Valley-wide policy discussion.

According to the Herald article, there were four teens in a car near the Burlington
Coat Factory: Francisco, 19, the driver, and three passengers: Joseph, 18;
Cindy, 16; and Evelyn, 16. The store lot is a “known hang out for teens who
like to engage in racing and car exhibitions.” The article barebones: revving
motor…approached by police…taking off…ignoring police signals to stop…careening
toward freeway…police following…kids clocked at 100 mph…beer cans thrown out
of window…concrete barrier…only Evelyn (in critical condition) left living.

Not intending a researched feature on this subject — although one of my ethics students may do a paper on it — I spent ten minutes Googling for Valley headlines. Here’s a sample.

  • “Police chase Mercedes-Benz, arrest Brownsville man” (Brownsville Herald, January 08, 2008) (The car went over curbs, but no one was injured. The driver left the car, ran and was taken to the ground by police.)
  • “Alamo police chase leads to man’s death” (The Monitor, May 15, 2007.) This
    article, written about a year ago, continues: “Alamo is the latest area law
    enforcement agency to engage in a chase that turned fatal.
  • In September, a
    man fleeing Hidalgo Sherriff deputies crashed his car and died. His mother
    recently sued the deputies…
  • In October one man was killed and seven injured
    after a driver led Pharr police on a high speed chase all the way to Palm View
    and collided with another car…
  • Finally, in February, a man fleeing McAllen police
    crashed his car.”
  • “Officer and K-9 injured in chase down Expressway 83” (Valley Morning Star:
    June 11, 2007.)
  • “Kidnapping suspect captured after police chased into field” (The Monitor,
    October 24, 2007.) No injuries. He finally stopped and ran into a bushy field.
  • “Judge arraigns suspects after police chase” (The Monitor, October 25, 2007.)
    During the chase, an officer lost control of his cruiser. Rescue workers airlifted
    him to a hospital; he had suffered a broken pelvis.)

I am not implying that my list of articles above is representative. Because
the Valley is large, with ever so many police agencies and a tendency to overpolice,
there must have been more police chases. But of the nine chases mentioned above,
notice that five left fatalities and two others left injuries to officers.
It’s not statistically indicative, but it keeps me wondering.

Some real statistical studies have been done. The Introduction to Policing
textbook (Dempsey and Forst) I am presently examining quotes a Miami/Dade County
study of 952 pursuits in their Metro area: 38% (361) ending in accidents. 17%
(161) resulting in injuries. A Minnesota study showed 24% ended in injuries.
Chases may not be worth the losses in enforcement terms either: a good number
of those fleeing get away anyway. Consider the Valley. There are a lot of
people in the Rio Grande Valley and chases here are risky. Some pursuits involve
more than one police force, and different areas have different pursuit rules,
compounding the confusion.

The offender’s car is made of metal — and metal moving fast is hazardous — and if a police car chases the offender, there will be double the amount of hazardous metal in motion.

Not only can fleeing offenders become disoriented, but a dangerous road rage
can develop in police. Adrenaline really flows and “noble cause” emotion
can flow through officers, clouding their judgment. That is why some police
departments suggest that an officer after a chase not be the arresting officer.
Eemember that famous Rodney King case where the police beat and beat and beat
him. Had he hit an officer? No. He simply had run away. That’s what triggered
the rage.

Some cities nationally are drastically restricting pursuits, unless perhaps
the person fleeing has waved a gun, etc. Usually the officer already has the
license number, and police can pick up the offender later. Studies show some
people who flee are simply afraid of police and have committed minor infractions.
Also, one study showed the obvious…when police stop pursuing, the fleeing motorist
stops driving his metal so fast. And we surely don’t want any more teens, guilty
of illegally drinking, driving fast and feeling chased by police.

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