Have you ever witnessed a police chase before? Odds are, you probably have.
The LAPD engages in thousands of police chases per year, each one running the risk of jeopardizing the lives of the public and law enforcement alike. It’s a double-edged sword, where officers have to balance the risk of putting themselves or others in harm’s way with the reward of apprehending the suspect.
According to the California Highway Patrol, in 2020, one out of four police pursuits in Los Angeles County ended in a crash. In 40% of those crashes, at least one person was injured.
Most recently, four people, including two innocent bystanders, and a dog were injured in a pursuit-related crash in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday night.
However, injuries aren’t always the worst that can happen.
In January, two innocent people were killed in Panorama City after a stolen vehicle crashed into theirs while being chased by police.
Just days later, suspects in a catalytic converter theft fleeing from authorities caused a violent multi-vehicle pileup that left three dead in South Gate.
In February, a mother of three was rushed to a hospital after a suspected DUI driver ran through a red light and hit her car in South Los Angeles, sending it into a traffic light pole. More than a month later, she remains in a coma and is still fighting for her life.
And on Tuesday night, one person was killed and eight more were injured in a nine-vehicle crash in Long Beach that stemmed from a traffic stop in which the driver sped off.
The alarming number of injury-causing and deadly crashes begs the question: is there anything that can be done to make police pursuits safer?
Law enforcement officials are instructed to follow specific vehicle pursuit guidelines, but the circumstances of every chase are different, so it can be hard to pin down an exact way to go about pursuing a suspect.
LAPD policy states that a risk assessment is first conducted, and that officers must have a backup unit and supervising unit before starting a pursuit. Then, officers put the suspect’s vehicle in “tracking mode,” where the unit on the ground backs away to slow the suspect down while an air unit follows. However, these procedures are not always successful.
According to the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, some factors that officials consider before initiating a chase are protection of public safety, the apparent need for immediate capture balanced against the risks to officers and the public, whether there are other occupants in the vehicle being pursued, and the location of the pursuit.
You can view the full list of factors that officials consider when initiating a chase by visiting the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training website.
Some local municipalities have floated the idea of ending police pursuits entirely, yet they still tend to occur almost daily in the L.A. area.