Some national experts on police chases disagree with how Nashville-area police agencies drive after suspects in high-speed pursuits, The Tennessean reports. Last Wednesday, John Curtis, 47, died after leading officers on a twisting 10-minute chase up to 85 mph, smashing into two cars and ending with a fatal crash downtown.
Curtis, a suspect in a possible drug deal, was chased after an officer thought he saw Curtis doing a “hand-to-hand” transaction on the roadside in a high crime area.
Geoffrey Alpert, a recognized expert on police pursuits, advocates that police departments not chase suspects unless severe violence is suspected. “I would no more take pursuit away from police than I would take their guns away,” said Alpert, of the University of South Carolina, “but pursuits should be limited and restricted to violent felonies.”
David Falcone, a professor at Illinois State University, says, “Always the axiom in medicine is first, do no harm. That should be applied in policing. What we’re doing is throwing caution to the wind, and this is the fallout. People die. People are injured.”
Nashville Metro police spokesman Don Aaron said new Police Chief Ronal Serpas has reviewed the Metro policy, and that officers apparently followed the guidelines on conducting the chase.
“While we will review the policy, it is our belief that it remains consistent with solid policing ethic,” he said.
A year ago, Metro police changed the pursuit policy to keep officers from chasing a suspect wanted only for minor traffic infractions. Alpert contrasts that with Memphis, where police are strictly prohibited from using patrol cars to pursue a suspect when the “suspect is wanted only for a traffic violation, a misdemeanor or a nonviolent felony.”
A police analysis of Nashville chases during 2000 found there were 193 reported police pursuits that year; 57 percent of those were initiated for traffic offenses. In 2003, under the new policy, there were 231 police pursuits.