It’s a long-running debate, one back in the headlines again, as police from both the Pierce County Sheriff and Lakewood Police Departments gave chase to a reported stolen vehicle according to Kenny Ocker in the Tacoma News Tribune, June 21, 2018.
“One person was critically injured, and five others were hurt”; a school bus was run into (no students aboard); a car collision followed; and finally, after involving four cars and a bus, “a nasty accident” ended it.
“Critical”, “significant” and “minor injuries” were incurred by a total of six people.
Four cars, a bus, and six people injured, one of them – the driver who had a Department of Corrections warrant for his arrest and who was the suspect who prompted the pursuit – “not doing well.”
As Lakewood Police investigate the crash (plural), and as the public awaits the results – including a Public Records Request of the pursuit policies of both departments – it is a fair question, even in this early juncture of the investigation, to ask if the pursuit was necessary.
Of course, once a pursuit begins the likelihood of it ending – as this one did – in one or more collisions increase.
According to an article in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, “a Minnesota research study conducted from June 2007 to July 2008 showed that in approximately 10,000 Minnesota police pursuits, 34 percent of them involved a crash by the suspect.
“Innocent third parties who just happened to be in the way constitute 42% of persons killed or injured in police pursuits.
“Further, 1 out of every 100 pursuits results in a fatality; 91.4% of all chases are for non-violent crimes; 35-40% of all vehicular police pursuits end in a collision.
“One person dies every day as a result of a police pursuit.”
When the San Antonio Police Department began scrutinizing vehicle safety after officers speeding to emergency calls crashed into other drivers, the number of police chases dropped to the lowest in six years.
No doubt such scrutiny will happen here too as Lakewood investigates this latest incident – because it’s not the first – and the results hopefully made public.
Documents obtained by The News Tribune through a public records request showed Lakewood police, in 2005, its first full year in operation after breaking off from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, “reported 37 accidents involving its vehicles, or about three per month. Nineteen were ruled preventable.”
Then Chief of Police Larry Saunders “wrote a memo to the department in early 2005 saying he was ‘seriously scared’ an officer or a citizen was going to be injured badly or killed if accidents weren’t reduced. The next year, the department reported about one-third fewer total accidents.”
One of those 37 accidents that may have prompted Saunders’ concern was a settlement reached in March of 2007 that involved a Lakewood officer who was chasing a suspected car thief and while in pursuit struck and seriously injured a fellow officer who in turn would successfully file suit against Lakewood and be awarded $150,00 above and beyond other claims.