When Should Police Officers Chase Vehicles?

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Milwaukee police are hitting higher speeds and involving younger people in recent years, says the city’s Fire and Police Commission. The city permits officers to chase a vehicle if they have probable cause that it, or the people inside, was involved in a violent felony. The department tightened the policy after four bystanders were killed by drivers fleeing police in 2010 so that officers could not chase for misdemeanor offenses, such as drug possession, or non-violent felonies, such as burglary, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Car chases are among the most dangerous operations of police work. Nationwide, one person a day was killed in a police chase from 1979 through 2013, reported USA Today. Milwaukee officers averaged nearly six chases per week in 2016. About 30 percent ended in a crash and one person was killed in a pursuit crash last year.

Nationwide, pursuit policies have trended toward more restrictive, said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum.  “Police departments have recognized that [with] a stolen car or someone who commits a traffic violation, it’s not worth engaging in a high-speed pursuit that could tragically kill some innocent third party,” he said. Kansas City, Ks., which instituted a policy like Milwaukee’s several years ago, is changing course. The department’s policy had been restricted after two bystanders were killed in crashes with vehicles fleeing police, said Officer Cameron Morgan, police spokesman. With rising numbers of drive-by shootings and homicides, the department is re-writing the policy. Officers likely will be able to chase if they have probable cause of a non-violent felony or misdemeanor offense, said spokesman Cameron Morgan.

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