Research shows risk in high-speed police pursuits involving innocent bystanders

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by KMOV.com Staff

KMOV.com

Posted on February 19, 2014 at 12:01 AM

(KMOV) – Monday’s local police pursuit is one of thousands that happen every year. Police insist many of the chases are critical to keep us safe but research shows that that the pursuits often end in crashes, killing and injuring innocent people.

Researchers have found that one-third of people killed as a result of high-speed chases are people that weren’t involved in them.

Despite concern about the risk of high-speed pursuit, there’s still no national record of police chases and their impact.

Monday’s pursuit started in Wellston, and according to police, the officer chased the suspect’s vehicle because he failed to stop at a stop sign, then refused to pull over for the officer. The pursuit ended in a multi-vehicle crash that injured 6 people, including a young child.

On Tuesday, Wellston police insisted it wasn’t clear if the officer actually chased the vehicle....even though it was widely reported that he did. The department’s spokesman admits pursuits can be very dangerous.

“Cars at high speeds are like pointing a gun at someone, eventually something is going to go bad,” said Lt. Chris Clay of Wellston.

Researchers have repeatedly found that most high speed pursuits are for non-violent misdemeanors or traffic violations. Some studies have found 1/3 of the pursuits end in crashes, injuring or killing hundreds of people every year.

“Anytime you initiate a pursuit it’s extremely high risk,” said Officer Brian Schellman of St. Louis County Police.

St. Louis County Police have a detailed policy that provides little wiggle room for pursuits that don’t involve a suspect wanted for a “dangerous felony”...or is an “imminent threat of death or serious injury” to the public.

Last summer, News 4 Investigates was along for the ride when county police raced to the scene of an officer involved shooting. That pursuit happened because it involved a manhunt with an armed suspect. Weeks later, we rode with county officers again. This time, they didn’t chase the suspect because there was no imminent threat.

“The biggest concern is not only the people we’re chasing, but innocent bystanders and the officers themselves,” said Officer Schellman.

“We’re here to protect the public, not endanger the public,” said Lt. Clay.

Is a 53-page annual report of police pursuits in Pennsylvania, the detail is extraordinary.

In Pennsylvania, police are required under law to keep records of all pursuits and report them so the state police can prepare this report. There’s no record like it for Missouri or Illinois.

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