Tragic Results of High Speed Police Chases
We have all seen high speed police chases in the movies. They usually involve weaving cars, incredible speeds and massive wrecks. While exciting to watch, the police chases in the movies fail to show the devastation to innocent victims who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. These innocent victims usually suffer serious injuries and sometimes even death. Fortunately, police stations across the country have realized the dangers of high speed chases and have instituted reasonable policies and procedures that tell officers when they should give chase and when they should abandon a fleeing suspect. Basically, the policies require the officer to balance the need to immediately apprehend a fleeing suspect against the risk to the officer and the public of initiating or continuing a pursuit.
The Georgia Court of Appeals recently examined a case involving whether a county could be sued if one of its officers failed to follow policy and procedure with regard to high speed police chases. In Strength v. Lovett, a police officer pulled over a 19 year old for making an illegal U-turn. The 19 year old pulled his car over and handed the police officer his license without incident. The 19 year old driver only had a provisional driver’s license that required him to have a passenger with him that was over 21. The driver did not have a 21 year old with him at the time, so the police officer called the 19 year old’s aunt to pick him up and take him home. While the officer was waiting for the aunt to arrive, the 19 year old suddenly took off, and the officer gave chase. After covering over four miles with speeds exceeding 90 miles per hour, the 19 year old eventually collided with another car, killing one of that car’s occupants.
The family of the deceased brought a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that the police officer recklessly decided to pursue the fleeing vehicle. The family of the innocent victim pointed out specific polices the pursuing officer failed to follow. For example, the county had a written policy that said, “it is of paramount importance that the officer weigh the seriousness of the offense against the danger to the officer and others who might be affected by the pursuit” and “it may be wise to abandon pursuit of misdemeanor offenders rather than continue a highly dangerous pursuit”. The family also pointed out that the officer was still in possession of the offender’s driver’s license, so it would be easy to get an arrest warrant and apprehend the suspect at a later time.
Despite the seemingly clear reckless behavior on the part of one of its officers, the county still argued that it was immune from a lawsuit. The Georgia Court of Appeals disagreed with the county, explaining that if an officer acts with reckless disregard for law enforcement polices and procedures when pursuing a fleeing suspect, then the county is not immune from a lawsuit.
In my opinion, the Court of Appeals got this one right. Police procedures are there for the protection of the officer and the general public. This case is a tragic example of why high speed police chases are almost always bad ideas. Had the police officer done what he was trained to do, an innocent life would have been spared, and the fleeing suspect would have eventually been caught.
Posted in: Automobile Wrecks