Police chases of fleeing motorists create compelling drama. High-speed chases also create dangers for all involved and for innocent people nearby.
West Virginia has no statewide standard for high-speed chases. It needs one. Officers on the scene and their supervisors need flexibility to assess a situation and determine when a chase is needed, but there have been too many in recent years.
In April of this year, a police chase that began in Milton and ended in Dunbar left several people injured. The pursuit began when state parole officers sent out an alert for Nathaniel Foster. Foster was spotted by Milton police and fled. According to Milton police, Foster hit several cars and injured several people before he was caught while trying to hijack a vehicle from an elderly driver in Dunbar.
In June 2015, a policeman in the Lawrence County village of Hanging Rock, Ohio, clocked a car doing 77 miles per hour in a 60-mph zone on U.S. 52. The car didn't stop, so the officer began a chase that ended when the car went off the side of an entrance ramp to the West 17th Street bridge. The two people in the car were killed. The chase reached speeds of 113 mph, and the fleeing car was doing 106 when it crashed.
In 2012, a high-speed chase began in Huntington's West End and ended downtown when a Cabell County deputy sheriff's cruiser struck a car going through an intersection with a green light. In that incident, an off-duty city police officer spotted a man stealing a spare tire from a parked vehicle. The man left the scene and was chased by the deputy and two city police cruisers. Speeds reached as high as 77 mph in the West End but slowed as it reached the downtown area.
A parole violation, a typical speeding situation and the theft of a spare tire are hardly reasons for high-speed chases that endanger the participants and people who just happen to be in or near their paths.
Individual law enforcement agencies in West Virginia have their own policies for chases. Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial told The Herald-Dispatch reporter Megan Osborne that Huntington's policy is several pages long. Dial said supervisors actively monitor each pursuit and decide on a case-by-case basis whether to continue, factoring in such things as the seriousness of the crime, how populated the area is where the chase occurs, the speed of the chase and road conditions.
"We do constant risk assessment on the pursuit to determine if it's a justified or good decision to continue the pursuit or end it," Dial said.
According to the Associated Press, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has asked for minimum standards in pursuits to prevent injury or death.
Police in Minneapolis are considering new guidelines to limit chases. That comes after several high-speed pursuits that ended in crashes involving injuries and death, according to the Star Tribune.
"In my opinion, there's not a large number of crimes, or types of crimes, that warrant pursuing unless there's some sort of danger to the public," Assistant Police Chief Mike Kjos, one of the biggest champions of the proposed change, told the newspaper.
High-speed chases should be rare and limited to the most serious offenses or threats to public safety. They should be a last resort.