High-Speed Police Chases and You

You may think that a police officer’s firearm is his or her most dangerous weapon. While those guns certainly do injure and kill innocent bystanders each year, it turns out that the most dangerous law enforcement tool may likely be the squad car. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 10,640 people have been killed in high-speed police chases between 1982 and 2013 — some 332 deaths each year. Research analyzing data from 1982 to 2004 determined that nearly one-third of the 7,400 killed during that time period were innocent bystanders, the vast majority of which were drivers on the road hit either by the police car or the vehicle being pursued.

As astonishing as these numbers are, the reality is likely much worse. Police departments are not required to submit chase data to any state or federal agency, which means that the data that is voluntarily shared is likely vastly underreported. The most widely accepted estimate of 30,000 to 40,000 annual police chases comes from an FBI report which determined that 1 out of every 100 police pursuits ends in death. An analysis done in 2008 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police revealed that 91 percent of all reported police chases were initiated over non-violent crimes, and simple traffic violations accounted for nearly half of them.

In a review of the practices of more than 400 enforcement agencies, a well-known professor of criminology who has studied police pursuits since the 1980s found that 91 percent of the agencies had some form of high-speed pursuit policy, and most of them were implemented in the 1970s. About half of these agencies had updated their policy in the 1990s to be more restrictive. However, in most cases, there was no governing process and officers generally had free reign to pursue anyone they wanted to. It took four people being killed by drivers fleeing police in three separate incidents in a two-month period for Milwaukee, Wisconsin to change its policy on pursuits. Before they can initiate a chase, police there now must have probable cause that a violent felony has occurred instead of reasonable suspicion.

Local headlines are full of stories of high-speed police chases throughout South Florida that end with bystanders being injured or killed. Particularly where the pursuit involves a minor offense and the public is unnecessarily endangered, innocent motorists, pedestrians and cyclists have a right to expect that the police will not recklessly disregard proper police procedure. As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest personal injury law firms, Stabinski Law has successfully handled claims involving improper and negligent police pursuits. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, we encourage you to contact us today by calling 305-643-3100 or by filling out a free case evaluation form.

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