Two recent police pursuits in the metro area raise important questions: Should officers pursue fleeing criminals zipping through residential neighborhoods? Is the potential upside of nabbing a suspect worth putting innocent people in harm’s way?
The pursuits, one of which played out on local television, netted multiple arrests, including the apprehension of a murder suspect.
If handled properly, pursuits can be effective in catching a criminal hell-bent on escape. But police chases are inherently dangerous for officers, fleeing suspects and innocent bystanders.
According to state data analyzed in 2015 by the Hale Center for Journalism and The Kansas City Star, between 2004 and 2014 there were at least 707 pursuit-related crashes in the metro area.
At least 23 people were killed. Hundreds more were injured, including at least 11 police officers.
From 2002 to 2012, more than 130 people died in police pursuits in Missouri and 45 in Kansas. The fatalities included pursued drivers and passengers, officers and, in some cases, bystanders.
Fortunately, no one was injured Jan. 30 when a motorist led police on a 30-minute pursuit through downtown Kansas City. The same man had already evaded police vehicles and a helicopter in a prior pursuit.
A day later, another driver tried to elude Kansas City police during a high-speed car chase that crossed into Kansas City, Kan. The driver reached speeds up to 100 mph and drove on the wrong side of the road. Authorities in Kansas City, Kan., ended the chase by sideswiping the speeding car.
Police Executive Research Forum, a police research and policy group, favors a model that allows pursuits only when an officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a fleeing suspect has committed or attempted to commit a violent felony. It also requires officers to consider the risks that a pursuit will pose to the community.
Kansas City follows a similar policy.
But last year, Kansas City, Kan., Police Chief Terry Zeigler chose to reverse a more cautious policy that limited pursuits to those who have committed known felonies. The department instituted the rule in 2014 after two fatal pursuits, but low-level criminal suspects soon caught on.
The current policy allows officers with probable cause to pursue a violator that has committed any crime, including a traffic violation. Sideswiping a vehicle is also acceptable in Kansas City, Kan., if used to prevent death or serious injury.
Police said each pursuit would be reviewed to make sure that officers adhered to department guidelines.
If policies were followed, law enforcement officials in each city should be commended.
But these high-speed police pursuits also serve as an important reminder to proceed with caution.