On local TV stations in Los Angeles, live coverage of car chases occurs with such regularity that one enterprising Web company promises to send its subscribers an alert every time a police pursuit is broadcast on television. The Christian Science Monitor says the number of car chases in California has risen sharply in recent years: from 5,895 in 2001 to 6,337 in 2002 to 7,171 in 2003. They may make good television, but high-speed chases often come with unintended consequences: destroyed property, costly lawsuits, and loss of innocent lives – including police personnel. That toll has given rise to calls for a crackdown on police chases.
Two other states, Florida and Mississippi, have adopted stricter guidelines for officers in deciding when to pursue motorists. California wants to expand its own practices beyond parts of Los Angeles, where stricter policies are in place. After the Los Angeles Police Department adopted a new policy for high-speed pursuits involving minor traffic offenses in 2002, there was a 78 percent drop in injuries to bystanders and a 33 percent drop in police injuries. “I think the essential issue is that [California] has legislation that delineates policy,” said D.P. Van Blaricom, retired Bellevue, Wa., chief of police. “If you require that they comply with it – if you make that one simple change – the culture of policing and car chases would change and you would see similar experiences to that of L.A. sheriffs.” One dispute that may need to be addressed is whether having stiff penalties for those who flee police is a significant deterrent.