This case involves a police chase that resulted in severe injuries for an innocent bystander. At the time of the incident in question, an officer was responding to a citizen’s report of a fight outside of a grocery store. When the officer arrived on the scene, he saw a black sedan exit the shopping center parking lot at a high rate of speed. Despite the fact that the officer did not know if the driver was involved in the fight, and did not witness a crime, he chose to pursue the vehicle. During the chase, the black sedan sped through a red light in a residential area and struck a pedestrian, who was rendered paraplegic. It was claimed that the officer did not adhere to his department’s policies when he chose to pursue the driver.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. What level of threat or criminality needs to be met before the police can initiate a chase?
- 2. What are the protocols for chasing a car through a residential area and when are the police supposed to pull back?
Expert Witness Response E-007813
The most basic principle in law enforcement is the protection of life and property. In line with that concept, the guiding and basic principle in initiating and continuing a pursuit is to balance the need to capture the fleeing motorist against the risk involved. When the risk outweighs the need to apprehend, the pursuit should either not be initiated and/or terminated once an involved officer/supervisor when the risk outweighs the need to apprehend. Pursuits for traffic offenses are not permitted by many agencies but even those that permit them still use the guiding principle listed above and as such should be terminated as soon as most any danger to the public exists. Obviously, a residential area with slower speed limits, traffic control devices (stoplights, stop signs, etc.), heavier volume of vehicle and pedestrian traffic raises the risk to the public and hence a pursuit in a residential area versus a pursuit on an open highway needs to be evaluated, supervised and conducted by the pursuing officer being mindful of those factors.
Expert Witness Response E-008178
In order to initiate a traffic stop, a police officer must have at least a reasonable suspicion that the person to be contacted has committed, is about to commit, or is committing a crime. In any police pursuit, where the danger of the pursuit outweighs the benefit of an immediate apprehension, the pursuit should be called off. Police pursuits are extremely dangerous and public safety is of utmost importance. Some police officers tend to get “caught up in the moment” during these pursuits and become “emotionally captured” to the extent that their judgment and their tactics suffer, and someone gets injured or killed as a result. I have handled police pursuit cases in the past, and specialize in the use of force by the police.