Washington, D.C.’s rules on chases by police officers say they can go after only suspects who pose an immediate danger of injuring or killing someone. They may not chase a suspect for a crime committed several days before, even if that crime was serious, the Washington Post reports. This makes D.C. one of the nation’s strictest police departments in limiting chases.
The rules were put into place a decade ago after a rash of crashes during pursuits. The city’s police union says that the rules allow too much room for second-guessing decisions that officers must make in an instant. If officers follow the rules strictly, union leaders say, they allow criminals an easy way to escape.
Each year, 300 to 400 people are killed in the United States because of police pursuits, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In recent years, the District has been averaging three or fewer pursuit-related deaths annually.
Peter Newsham, the assistant D.C. chief in charge of internal affairs, said officers are permitted to chase suspects in essentially the same kind of situations they would be allowed to shoot them: only when a serious crime is occurring or is about to occur. Isaac Fulwood Jr., police chief when the rules were instituted, said, “We’re going to get the person eventually. Sometimes, to protect the larger community is to let the bandit get away temporarily.”