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Ten deadly myths and one fact why vehicular police pursuits will continue unabated in California and worldwide, and police pursuit crashes will kill and injure many more innocent victims.

(Updated July 4, 2019)

"Absolutely, the person who chooses to flee from the police is to blame. It is his or her primary responsibility to stop for the police. But, knowing that some people will flee, the police have the responsibility to act in a way that protects us—the public."—Geoffrey Alpert, an international expert on police violence and pursuit driving.

10.

The fleeing offender faces stiff penalties.



Penalties come after the fact. After a violent crash kills innocent bystanders or police officers.

This myth begs the question:

“Is it worth the lives and safety of our officers and citizens to chase traffic offenders? What type of penalty will the offender face if caught? I’m sorry, but every law enforcement CEO should put the safety of their community above the need to lock up someone. If their jurisdiction is like Florida, the arrested offender will probably be home before the officer completes their paperwork.”—Steven H. Jones, former chief of the Orange County (Florida) Sheriff's Office

A weak argument for police chases


9.


When fleeing suspects crash into civilians, officers have nothing to do with the outcome of these pursuits that result in the deaths of innocent victims.



About this myth:


It’s hard to believe trained officers would participate in a high-risk tactic of which they had no control.
Think about it: at least one-third of the deaths are innocent bystanders.
Not to mention when officers apprehend suspects without any deaths, they accept accountability.

Sarah Boland's Death
Officer Joshua Lancaster's Death
Kristie Priano's Death
Sarah Phillips' Death
 


8.


It's the victims' fault; they should have gotten out of the way. 



They should have pulled off to the side of the road when they heard the sirens and seen the lights.

About this myth:


Only 24% of drivers can hear and determine from which direction a police car and its siren are traveling.
ALERT International


"One of the things people have to realize is if the officer is going above 55 mph, everyone ahead of the officer cannot hear the siren. So it should be realized that at 55 mph, a siren is virtually ineffective."
Police Lt. Kevin Gilpin, Erlanger, Kentucky
Kentucky Post, Nov. 8, 2003


Police are given certain privileges by law to help maintain an orderly society. Those rules are given to them to follow and not abuse. For example, they are provided lights and sirens to warn us of an impending danger and to signal for us to pull over when they need to talk with us or get us out of the way. These lights and sirens are just that—warning devices. Police officers are trained to understand that many civilians do not hear or see these warning devices and to drive "with the due regard for the safety of all motorists."
Geoff Alpert, Police Pursuit Expert

Do police expect us all to hear exactly the same thing and recognize the direction of a siren? Are we not allowed to listen to the radio or have conversations with each other on a family drive? Sure, we are not supposed to have music on so loud that it interferes with our driving, but that is a far cry from normal and reasonable listening that could cover up a siren in the distance. Do you think deaf citizens should not be able to drive?
Geoff Alpert

"Drivers who do hear the siren, have no time to react."
—Retired Police Chief Donald Van Blaricom,
Bellevue, Washington

The suspect is the lead car in a pursuit, not the police car, making it more difficult for victims to hear sirens and see lights as they approach intersections, sometimes blind intersections (such as the situation in the pursuit that killed Kristie). That's why most pursuit policies, including the Chico Police Department's pursuit policy, do not allow pursuits "if they are traversing traffic-controlled intersections." During the Chico pursuit, the police chased the teen down several streets where multiple stop signs were ignored, while intersecting streets, such as the one our family was driving on had no stop signs. We did not see or hear anything and nothing unusual or loud was going on in our car.
Candy Priano


7.

The myth of the split-second decision.


So often we hear that officers must make split-second decisions when it comes to pursuits. Following good policy, common sense, and accountability, the split-second decision myth doesn't hold water. For example, it is not in the interest of public safety for an officer to "light up" a suspect in a stolen vehicle in a busy store parking lot or on a heavily traveled road with traffic-controlled intersections nearby. The individual driving that stolen car most likely will not pull over appropriately. Instead the driver will "bolt," putting everyone in the vicinity in harm's way. Same thing applies if the suspect has violated parole. The officer needs to survey the traffic and the pedestrians before "lighting up" any suspect who is a flight risk.

In many of these chases for known car thieves and non-violent parole violators, we often hear that the pursuit lasted only "90 seconds" or "60 seconds." Most pursuits last a total of two minutes. The length of a pursuit does not make a difference to the families of innocent victims. It is as if the length of a chase justifies the killing and maiming of innocent people.

Jim Phillips wrote about the Split-Second Myth.


6.

If police pursuit practices were broken, 

our elected legislators would fix the state laws.



Law and Order Republican Senator Sam Aanestad, author of Kristie's Law, is ONE legislator who has never wavered in his stand on public safety first. He put his own political ambitions aside in order to introduce legislation that will save lives. By introducing Kristie's Law, Senator Aanestad put his political career on the line. His efforts prompted threats of political retaliation against the senator as noted in the L.A. TIMES.

The following commentary is by Jim Phillips of PursuitWatch.org: "California Law Enforcement is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the state. Additionally, the endorsement of political candidates by Law Enforcement is a very important element in any campaign. California Law Enforcement would like to frame the whole immunity issue into the simplistic logic of 'If the bad guys had not run, none of this would have happened.' PERIOD. While this is certainly true, it ignores the complexity of pursuits and prevents any rational approach to making them safer and less costly. The scandalous position of California Law Enforcement is that they are powerless to do anything to prevent pursuit deaths and injuries and that is exactly what they donothing."


5.

If officers don't chase, "someone else" might get killed. 



Or, innocent people killed in pursuits are acceptable collateral damage.
Their deaths are necessary to protect the greater majority. 

About this partial myth: Easily it is the cruelest one of all. It tells us that our loved ones do not count as much as someone else. The media has almost exclusively used law enforcement officials as their primary source when covering deadly chases that involved innocent victims. With the number of innocent victims of pursuit continuing to increase, the public, hopefully, will begin to question if the cost of these chases outweighs the benefit. 

If a pursuit of an unknown suspect is called off for safety reasons, law enforcement needs to notify the media, similar to AMBER Alerts, and alert the public that a potentially dangerous suspect has fled from the police and is still at-large. They can give the media details of the suspect and the vehicle he/she was driving.

Killing the innocent does not save lives.


4.


Pursuit crashes are just "car accidents."



Crimes committed with cars are extremely common. Innocent victims and their families are often victimized again when the media, the public, and the courts call these crimes "car accidents." Accidents are not premeditated. Pursuits occur when a person decides to flee and an officer decides to chase. People who flee are self-absorbed. They are not thinking about the safety of others.

The burden to protect innocent victims, by necessity, falls on the police.

A Letter from Desiree's Mom and Dad


3.

People run because there's a dead body in their trunk.



The police have found dead bodies in the trunks of cars but rarely.

This myth begs the question:

When was the last time you have read or heard a news story where an innocent person was killed in a pursuit and the UNKNOWN person being chased had a dead body in the trunk?

A weak argument for police chases


2.

If officers don't chase, most drivers will flee.



Law enforcement officials repeat this myth over and over again. One could mistakenly conclude that a mandatory reduction in police pursuits via restrictive pursuit policiesallowing chases for only violent felonsrenders police officers completely powerless. These three studies prove otherwise: 

Results from the LAPD Review

Phoenix Policy Change Review

Department of Justice Study


1.

Not that many innocent people get killed in pursuits. 

This oft-repeated statement gives the public the false sense of security that it will never happen to them.
It does happen, and the stories on these pages prove it.  

These crashes occur one at a time, so only the loved ones left behind, who bury the dead and take care of the permanently injured, feel the full brunt of the deaths and injuries.

A personal note from Candy Priano:
"I didn't think it would happen to my family either. My children made good choices and respected police officers, teachers, coaches, and adults. About a month before Kristie was killed as I was changing channels on my TV, I saw a police chase end in a horrific crash. I turned off the TV and said out loud to myself, "Someone COULD get killed doing that," never realizing at the time that people DO get killed doing that. Not until Kristie died do I understand that police chases kill innocent people."

Read about "Apathy" right here.


Fact

Some researchers and members of law enforcement believe pursuits continue unabated because a pursuit crash has not killed the right person, yet.



Follow-up with this feature:

 

Tragedy Brings Change

Change is difficult for everyone, especially for officers who are trained to make our lives safer. Making our lives safer is what police do and that's why we support and work with law enforcement. However, we cannot dismiss that pursuits are the most dangerous police tactic, killing more innocent civilians than a bullet from an officer's firearm.