When high-speed chases just aren’t worth the deadly risk

fatal

Dorothy Wright was on her way to church Sunday morning with her two grandchildren, but fate intervened. The driver of a stolen SUV who was trying to escape a police pursuit smashed into Wright’s car at an intersection in southwest Atlanta.

Wright and her two grandchildren, ages 12 and 6, were killed. The suspect escaped on foot.

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Dorothy Wright (Credit: Channel Two Action News)

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Cameron Cosner, 12, and Layla Partridge, 6. (Credit: Channel Two Action News)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three days earlier, an elderly couple returning home from a birthday dinner in Gwinnett County were killed in another high-speed chase. A car that police had pulled over in Johns Creek for a possible equipment violation  took off instead. Two minutes later, the fleeing car crashed into a car containing Elzbieta Gurtler-Krawczynska and her husband, Kryzysztof Krawczynski. Two suspects — a father and son from Tennessee — are now in custody and charged with crimes including vehicular homicide and assorted drug-trafficking charges.

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Kryzysztof Krawczynski and Elzbieta Gurtler-Krawczynska

Five innocent people killed in a span of a few days, and for no good reason.

I’m not trying to bash law enforcement. I have no doubt that the officers involved in the two tragedies are distraught at how things turned out, and there’s no indication yet that the chases violated department policies, although investigations naturally continue.  And I certainly understand how police officers intent on catching bad guys can be reluctant to break off the chase and just let them go.

But in the calm light of day, when we can think it through without the cloud of adrenaline and testosterone, we do have to ask ourselves: Is the recovery of an SUV, for example, worth putting the lives of innocent people at risk? The chase that ended in the death of a grandmother and two children had begun in College Park  and covered at least a dozen miles on a Sunday morning; disaster could have happened at any point along that route. Even in the Gwinnett County case, where the two suspects are charged with serious drug-related crimes, does their apprehension justify the risks taken to do so?

I doubt the victims’ family and friends would say yes.

Unfortunately, we don’t have comprehensive national data on police chases, for the same reason that we don’t have such information on police-involved shootings: No one until now has made it a priority to collect it. But the numbers that we do have are troubling:

— Since 1979, more than 5,000 innocent bystanders or passengers and 139 police officers have been killed in chases; 6,300 fleeing drivers have also died, according to a report by USA Today. The actual numbers are probably higher, but again, reporting of such data is largely informal and piecemeal.

— According to another study, this one looking at data from 1994-2002, more than 3,100 people were killed in high-speed chases in that eight-year span. Of that number, more than a third — 1,088 — were people not in the fleeing vehicle, meaning that they had no involvement whatsoever. More than 100 of those killed were pedestrians or bicyclists. Just 39 percent of the suspect drivers had a valid driver’s license.

— In that same study, more than 47 percent of fleeing drivers were drug- or alcohol-impaired. (The driver in last week’s Gwinnett tragedy, for example, was charged with DUI). You could argue that such numbers justify police pursuit, because those drivers need to be taken off the road. On the other hand, do you really want impaired individuals at the wheel in a high-speed pursuit situation?

More than 90 percent of high-speed chases are initiated for non-violent crimes. The best data indicate that almost half begin with a traffic violation. In most of those cases involving non-violent crime, pursuit created a risk of death or serious injury that did not exist prior to the chase.

— Once initiated, some 25 percent to 40 percent of chases end when the suspect crashes into something. As we’ve seen, that “something” can be a pedestrian, a biker, a parked car, a tree or retaining wall or a grandmother on her way to church with her grandchildren.

Inevitably, police-pursuit policies come down to a balancing test. We know — and now have five fresh reminders –that high-speed pursuits put innocent people at risk of death or serious injury. That knowledge must be balanced against the knowledge that if violators know they won’t be pursued, they might become emboldened.

I get that. And in cases involving violent crime or danger to human life, high-speed pursuit should remain an option. But in cases of property crime and traffic violations, the scales swing heavily against it. What we stand to lose is much greater than what we stand to gain.

 

Reader Comments 0

282 comments
MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Jay, this evening on the local news I heard the voices of the husband and wife who lost their children's grandmother and their children in this terrible wreck. They are so alone, now, and so young to have to weather this unspeakably painful reality now placed upon them.

It is so good that you gave this situation of police chase the attention that you have here.  Such tragedy.  Such sadness that did not have to happen.

Ollylarson
Ollylarson

Let's be completely clear here. These accidents were completely the fault of the people involved that were breaking the law. Their series of bad decisions are the reason 5 people are dead, not the cops trying to make them answer for their crimes. 


If the cops had not pursued the law breakers, the law breakers could commit more crimes and endanger more people. It is a no win scenario. 

GB101
GB101

It is important to consider another factor.  People who flee from police have a reason to do so.  They have done something bad and don't want to get caught.  If not caught they are likely to do more bad things.  



St Simons he-ne-ha
St Simons he-ne-ha

Barney, your d*** will never be big, no matter how many guns you buy or how bad you wannabe a a race driver or strut around in that mall cop uniform

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

Gomer cops involved in these high speed pursuits probably fantasize about being NASCAR drivers. Most of these idiots would be driving a forklift or working in a food court if they hadn't gotten hired on with the po-leece.

myvoice
myvoice

Recapturing a stolen car is not worth human lives.

Starik
Starik

The police police themselves... or pass cases on to another police department for "investigation" or to the local politician/DA.  We need fewer departments, and civilian oversight with teeth.  We really don't need to tell our many participants in the crime industry that if they run the police won't chase them.

Pursuit For Change
Pursuit For Change

Thank you for this excellent opinion piece. As the father of a 23-year old son and innocent victim killed in an unnecessary police chase, I understand this issue only too much. 

Your point that we should not bash law enforcement is right on. We need to support law enforcement in every way that we can, but that does not preclude us from asking that they reassess actions and policies that put both innocent citizens and the law enforcement officers themselves at risk of great bodily harm or death.As an advocate who has been working to reduce unnecessary pursuits and to support law enforcement since 2007, it is heartbreaking to read about more innocents getting killed because they happened to be at the wrong end of a police chase. My advocacy, Pursuit for Change, is working hard to create positive change while supporting law enforcement.  Additionally, as of today, there are 1,227 folks who agree with me - though their support of my Change Petition (can't post a link;  search: "Prevent unnecessary police pursuits and save innocent victim lives").  Thanks again.  Only by telling these stories and by sharing the tragedies will positive changes occur.  Jonathan Farris, Chief Advocate, Pursuit For Change

smartiepants
smartiepants

The deaths of innocents are indeed very tragic.  Someone needs to take the lead to change the rules on high speed chases through our very own neighborhoods.  Thanks for this thoughtful article. @lfbrockm

barkingfrog
barkingfrog

No car can outrun a radio. Alert the other police and wait for 

the bad guy.

popgun
popgun

@barkingfrog The old saying was, "you can't outrun Motorola. I agree 100%. Pursuit should be under control, and high tech.

Kamchak
Kamchak

@td1234 

because welfare pays more.

Got proof?

Please, show your work.

Thanks in advance, sport.

RaindroidWillBoy
RaindroidWillBoy

@honested @DownInAlbany


It is interesting that the issues the DEMS are making a big deal of are not very important to most citizens.  Guns, alleged war on women, the coming ending of the earth (BTW last week was the date Al Gore said we would be extinct)......

honested
honested

I read a little blurb suggesting that 'zika virus' was imported to the US as a plan to repopulate the party.

honested
honested

@~moonbat_betty~ @honested 

No

With the slow realization that 'supply side' is a farce in the broad population, in order to keep enough voters in place to check next to the 'R' box requires an ample supply of people with little heads and tiny brains.

honested
honested

tiny dog,


If you are still yapping about, I was wondering if you had read 538 today about the only contest in Iowa likely to have any relevance in the Presidential election?

td1234
td1234

@honested Have not had time today so give me a quick version?

td1234
td1234

@honested @td1234 So 538 is predicting Clinton to beat Sanders in the primary? Heck they have been doing that for 6 months. I thought you were going to tell us something new. 

honested
honested

@td1234 @honested 

Well since one of them will eventually be President, I thought you would want to know.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder


Feds hand down multi-count indictment and Clinton to face possible life sentence.










Nah, just messin' with the cons. Happy Monday all!

King_of_Kolob
King_of_Kolob

The definition of insanity -  Doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result, like thinking that the next time they will find something in Hillary's "doggone emails."

RaindroidWillBoy
RaindroidWillBoy

@DownInAlbany @honested @King_of_Kolob


Seems to me she had email that wasn't supposed to be on a private unsecured server.  Thats a given.  Also, information doesn't have to have security able to be top secret or whatever.  Perhaps she gets a pass on the idea that ignorance is not excuse?

RaindroidWillBoy
RaindroidWillBoy

@King_of_Kolob @DownInAlbany @honested


I guess if you close your eyes and put your fingers in ears it will go away.   Let's see, pattern of lying..lied about reason for private server, lied about lying about it, lied about sensitive info on server, now her defense is its over classification run amok.


She is her worst enemy and created all this crap.  Did she lie to Benghazi families (then calling them liars?)

DownInAlbany
DownInAlbany

So much for "I'll stand up to Wall Street.  I'll stand up to big business..." huh?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@DownInAlbany

Are you saying that Hils is a bog-standard corporatist Dem who isn't inclined to rock the boat a whole lot? Pretty much like the guy in the White House right now?

Why knock me over with a feather.