Southern California law enforcement authorities say there has been a steady decline in police pursuits over the last decade, but a recent rash of chases broadcast to area viewers has put the risk-filled, resource-draining problem back in the spotlight, reports the Los Angeles Times. In one recent three-hour chase, a costly deployment of cruisers, officers, helicopters, and spike-laying trucks was not out of the ordinary. Another high-speed chase three days later dominated local airwaves for more than 90 minutes; back-to-back pursuits last week involving a suicidal Bentley driver and a car thief also forced state and county authorities to commit tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in law enforcement resources to bring the flights to an end.
Felony evading of a police officer, when combined with reckless driving, carries a minimum jail sentence of 16 months and a maximum of three years, plus a $10,000 fine. There is no direct correlation between the expenditure of law enforcement resources to stop fleeing drivers and the severity of the sentences, officials concede. At least nine people have died in police pursuits in Los Angeles in the last seven months; most of those fatalities were the offending drivers, but two pedestrians were killed in July. Annual incidents of Los Angeles police pursuits have been declining, with 330 last year, down from 419 in 2007 and 549 in 2006. In 2001, there were 769. The California Highway Patrol participated in 5,793 pursuits last year. Jeff Baugh of KNX-AM, a board member of the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California, said, “When it comes to TV, what troubles me is that it’s not breaking news they’re reporting with a pursuit, it’s more breaking entertainment,” he said, justifying radio coverage as important real-time public safety information for listeners on the road.