Injuries From Police Pursuits: When Is The Chase Too Dangerous?
Police do dangerous jobs. Often those jobs include having to engage in high speed chases or pursuits. When that happens, it’s not just the officers that are in danger—it’s often the general public, which can be severely injured in accidents caused by police who pursue suspects.
Policies Can Vary
There is no national or state law that says when a police can, and should, engage in a high speed pursuit, and when it is too dangerous to do so. Most police departments have their own policies, and most are pretty similar: they ask officers to weigh the benefits of the pursuit of a suspect, with the potential harm to the general public that is caused by engaging in the pursuit.
So, for example, if a baby were forcibly kidnapped, that may call for an all out pursuit almost anywhere; there is a human life in danger. On the other hand, if the suspects had been caught stealing property, the police may not always engage in pursuit; the theft of property may noy be worth the risk to human life caused by the pursuit of those suspects.
There are scenarios when it is clear that a police chase should almost always be abandoned—for example, if the chase goes through a school zone, or through a retail area with a lot of foot traffic.
Many departments may differentiate misdemeanors and felonies, saying only the latter warrants a high speed pursuit.
Making it more difficult, the line between “worth it” and “not worth it” isn’t always clear—sometimes, police don’t know why a suspect is fleeing.
Use of Lights and Sirens
Even if the police feel that they can and should engage in a high speed pursuit, and even if they are right about the pursuit, they must use their lights to alert the general public that they are in the process of pursuit. That may include flashing headlights and the lights atop the vehicle, as well as the sirens.
Even a legal, advisable police chase may be negligent, if the police don’t use their emergency lights and sounds.
Second Guessing Police
Victims injured in a police chase accident often will ask whether the chase was even necessary; for example, in some cases helicopters or air monitoring can be used to track the suspect, until the suspect’s vehicle gets to an area where a pursuit is safer.
Suing a police department for injuries caused by a high speed chase can be difficult, because to many juries, police officers’ actions are almost always seen as necessary. As they should be, police are seen as heroes, but that earned reputation can prevent a jury from recognizing when an officer has been negligent in the course of a high speed pursuit.