According to a new study, police pursuits should be rare and limited to violent criminals who pose an imminent threat.
The research by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a think tank on law enforcement standards, references Washington state and the pursuit law changes adopted here as part of its research. In its report, “Vehicular Pursuits: A Guide for Law Enforcement Executives on Managing the Associated Risks,” PERF recommends that a pursuit should only be initiated under two conditions: (1) If a violent crime has already occurred and (2) if there is an immediate risk that the suspect will commit another violent crime.
According to PERF, pursuits pose dangers to officers, unsuspecting bystanders, suspects, and the community at large. The latest national data on police vehicle pursuits revealed that for every 100 pursuits, there were two severe injuries and 10 minor injuries. Of these serious injuries, suspects accounted for 76%, non-involved persons accounted for 21%, and law enforcement officers made up 3%.
The report showed statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, revealing that in 2020, the number of fatal crashes related to police pursuits reached a peak of 455. This was the highest number since 2007 when the fatalities stood at 372. Several police departments have reported a significant increase in the number of individuals attempting to evade law enforcement during traffic stops.
The report is broken up into six sections:
- Agency philosophy and policy standards
- Initiating and discontinuing the pursuit – the role of a supervisor
- Pursuit interventions/alternatives and technology for managing pursuits
- Post-pursuit reporting
- Vehicle pursuit training
- Community engagement.
Under Washington law, police are allowed to chase suspects involved in violent offenses, sex offenses, vehicular assaults and domestic violence assaults. There is also a provision that would require officers engaging in pursuit to have emergency vehicle operator training and be certified in at least one pursuit intervention option, such as spike strips.
The study recommends that chasing a suspect should only be allowed if they are both a violent criminal and pose an imminent threat. Washington allows pursuits in some non-violent situations, such as DUI or to catch an escapee.
The PERF study also advises that pursuits should not be a routine part of law enforcement work. Researchers said the safety of fleeing suspects, their passengers, pursuing officers and community members is too important to risk on a regular basis.
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