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Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017

Police chases: A necessary danger?

Posted Wednesday, August 22, 2007, at 8:07 AM

A high-speed pursuit Monday in western Bedford County ended with a 50-acre field fire which endangered a home.

And the suspect got away.

When does a pursuit go too far? Many law enforcement agencies, including the Shelbyville Police Department and Bedford County Sheriff's Department, will call off a chase if they feel lives are in danger. These decisions, which may be made for the pursuer by a supervisor, often occur when a suspect is driving at a high rate of speed in a residential area, near a school during class hours or into heavy traffic or narrow rural roads.

Speaking of pursuits in general and not Monday's in particular, there's a major difference between chasing a suspect who was driving recklessly before the blue lights were turned on and one who was previously not a threat. For example, chasing a speeding, drunk driver already endangering the public versus someone an officer spotted who had been driving safely but had outstanding warrants against them. Regardless, the chasee bears the blame since they chose to run.

We'll always hear of innocent people dying or injured when struck during chases.

But if the main goal of the chase is to arrest someone wanted for a not-so-severe crime, as opposed to stopping an erratic driver already on their way to a likely crash or a murder suspect, is the risk worth the hoped-for result? That suspect will almost certainly show up somewhere else at another time. And is the chance of preventing another crime by an arrest worth the possible cost of a chase?

Balance that against the need to arrest suspects and enforce the law, and the fact that an officer doing his/her job properly will be determined to "catch the (alleged) bad guy."

Sometimes pursuits will end with less-than-ideal results. Let's hope they always begin only if absolutely necessary, and that officers' role to "protect the innocent" is kept in mind.

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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.