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Arkady Frekhtman

New York Personal Injury Attorney DIscusses the Dangers of High Speed Pursuits

Every day in New York and other states, when law enforcement officers conduct high-speed chases after drivers suspected of various crimes, they place everyone nearby in grave danger explains a New York personal injury attorney.  Even pedestrians can suffer serious or fatal injuries when fleeing suspects lose control of their vehicles and jump curbs.

In hopes of better protecting the public, New York law enforcement officials keep revising their policies governing these incidents so they will take place less often and threaten fewer lives.

Before reviewing other aspects of these events (including the specific types of individuals who most often try to flee from officers), it’s important to note how the police often define a “pursuit” and some of the most common elements that must be managed during each incident.

Four Key Elements Often Involved in High-Speed Pursuits

One U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) study entitled, “Restrictive Policies for High-Speed Police Pursuits” states that there are four key aspects of a pursuit. Stated generally, the term “pursuit” refers to a law enforcement officer in a patrol car who’s trying to capture an individual (or group of people) fleeing in a vehicle after committing some type of offense that puts the public at risk.

Stated more precisely, (1) the fleeing party knows s/he is being chased by an on-duty law enforcement officer; (2) the suspect driver is refusing to stop, (3) the driver often knows that the pursuit was triggered by a specific offense; (4) and the fleeing driver is often speeding. However, slower speeds may sometimes be involved. These can prove just as dangerous since traffic is often suddenly interrupted or brought to a standstill while these chases unfold (like the one involving O. J. Simpson back in the 1990s).

What Are Common Traits of Those Usually Fleeing the Police?

The DOJ study referenced above indicates the following common facts about individuals trying to escape from authorities.

  • Over 95% of them are males;
  • Roughly 17% of them are driving on suspended licenses;
  • Close to 14% of them are driving under the influence of alcohol. Far fewer are impaired by drugs. (However, given the fact that marijuana has been legalized in many states since this study was conducted – and our country’s current opioid crisis – we probably now have a much higher percentage of people running from law enforcement officers who are impaired by drugs).

What Types of Injuries Often Occur During These Chases?

General news stories and YouTube videos clearly indicate that innocent bystanders (including pedestrians) are often seriously injured during these events. Furthermore, major property damage is often inflicted during high-speed pursuits. For example, drivers of other vehicles are frequently rear ended or sideswiped.

As noted below, liability issues can loom large for all parties after a major police pursuit finally ends.

Different Jurisdictions Create Their Own Unique Standards for Pursuits

Although these standards may vary, most of them try to narrowly define when high-speed chases are justified. This includes stating which suspected crimes a fleeing driver may have committed. (One study indicated that 90% of these chases are triggered by a witnessed traffic violation). Here are some other standards frequently covered.

  • Which officers are authorized to initiate pursuits. Department standards must clearly state which specific ranks of officers can begin pursuits – and who they must immediately notify when one has begun;
  • The constancy of radio communications required while any pursuit unfolds;
  • Whether the use of deadly force is ever justified (normally, only in limited cases). After all, everyone is placed in greater danger if the fleeing individual is shot and killed or seriously incapacitated — since the driver will likely harm others after losing control of the vehicle);
  • When helicopter or other air support should be added to the pursuit;
  • Which specific chase attributes must be present before setting up roadblocks, ramming a fleeing vehicle – or boxing it in with multiple, pursuing patrol vehicles;
  • Under what conditions officers can increase their speeds when a fleeing person appears to be escaping;
  • Determining when it’s safe to set out different road devices like “spike strips” that may cause the suspect’s car tires to deflate. Of course, the fleeing drivers may still stubbornly keep driving forward – even while possibly losing control of their vehicles;
  • How officers must respond and approach a vehicle once it has stopped. Different warnings usually must be given and the suspect must be told to surrender to avoid physical harm.

Liability Issues Involved When Innocent Parties Are Hit During High-Speed Chases

Government officials at every level are usually aware of the major expenses that may be involved if any law enforcement officers accidentally hit innocent parties during high-speed chases. Even the U. S. Supreme Court has responding to many lawsuits filed following these types of events. Some of their key rulings were set forth in Tennessee v. Garner, Brower v. County of Inyo, and City of Canton v. Harris.

Plaintiffs in these cases often challenge when deadly force can be used during high-speed chases to stop fleeing individuals. Of course, a large percentage of liability arguments are based on claims involving negligence.

Civil rights issues are also often raised due to the rights guaranteed to citizens concerning due process of law before their lives, property or liberties can be taken from them. See 42 U. S. C Section 1983.

What Alternatives Do Law Enforcement Officers Have to Using High-Speed Chases?

While some government officials favor the idea of placing numerous cameras above or to the side of many roads or freeways to capture photos of fleeing felons, the fact remains that the clarity of these pictures may not always be good enough to identify the drivers or their vehicle license plates. Considering the hundreds of thousands of miles of roadways across this country, this approach just isn’t practical.

There is also continuing debate about installing devices in many convicted offenders’ vehicles that would allow law enforcement to use remote control devices to switch off their vehicle engines should they one day try to flee from officials. Of course, this would probably only be allowed as a condition of probation.

At present, there are still very few safe alternatives to high-speed chases – especially when the police are completely certain that they are trying to capture a very dangerous criminal – as opposed to someone who may have just committed a minor traffic violation shortly before trying to speed away and avoid capture.