Scores of criminals might have eluded immediate capture had a controversial new plan to limit Houston police vehicle chases been in effect in the past 18 months, says the Houston Chronicle. Police Chief Harold Hurtt’s proposal would restrict his officers from engaging in lengthy pursuits when a fleeing motorist’s only known crime is a Class C misdemeanor, such as a traffic violation. That was the reason officers gave for almost half the chases recorded in the past year and a half. When those chases ended and suspects were questioned, 40 percent said they fled to avoid arrest for felonies, drug possession, or driving while intoxicated, says a department database obtained by the Chronicle.
The statistics, detailing 1,045 chases since January 2005, could lend support to those who argue that pursuits are necessary to get wrongdoers off the streets – and that limiting them gives criminals a green light to bolt. “People who run from the cops don’t do so to avoid a traffic ticket. They’re doing so because they are engaged in a greater crime,” said Councilman Michael Berry. “Rank-and-file officers tell me that criminals will go free if they don’t have this crime-fighting tool.” The database also starkly highlights the dangers and costs cited by Hurtt in his move to change the policy: chases examined by the Chronicle led to 143 injuries, seven deaths and more than $1 million in property damage. No officers were killed, but an uninvolved motorist accounted for one of the deaths. “I’m personally always concerned that someone will slip through and escape,” said Craig Ferrell, the department’s top lawyer. “But I’m also concerned that there will be some tragic injury – and it may be to one of our officers – for a minor traffic violation.”