Three years ago, a Gardena, Ca., police car chased a pickup truck being driven by someone who officers suspected had just stolen two cellphones at gunpoint. Just over a minute after the pursuit began, a police officer driving nearly 50 mph rammed the truck in a pursuit tactic intended to force a fleeing car to turn sideways and stop. The maneuver is considered potentially lethal at speeds of more than 35 mph. Mark Gamar, 19, a passenger in the truck, was killed, and his mother, Irma Ramirez, sued the Gardena Police Department, the Los Angeles Times reports. The California Supreme Court will soon decide whether the lawsuit can go forward or whether the Gardena Police Department has immunity because it has a pursuit policy and provides regular training for its officers.
The case is being closely watched by law enforcement and safety advocates. If the court rules for Ramirez, people hurt and families of those killed during police pursuits will be more likely to win compensation from cities and counties. Police chases in California regularly lead to injuries and deaths, causing some to question whether they are worth the risk to the public. About 25 percent of pursuits end in collisions. In 2016, police pursuits caused 762 injuries and 24 deaths. On average, there are 23 police chases a day in California. State lawmakers over the past two decades have struggled to find ways to protect local governments from huge jury awards or settlements in pursuit cases and at the same time heed calls for making chases safer.