High Speed Police Pursuits: Law Enforcement Liability and Public Safety

12 Speeding Supercar Club Driver’s Named In I-394 Chase

I have been writing about this for more than 20 years. Few police departments regulate high-speed chases, and even fewer actually enforce those rules. Yet every year, we see innocent bystanders killed in these chases:

On April 29, 2016, Louise Donner, 66, of Linthicum was killed when she was involved in a head on collision. Ms. Donner was an innocent victim of a high speed police pursuit. Law enforcement officers were involved in a high speed pursuit of Johnathon Simms, 31, of Baltimore.

According to a CBS Baltimore article regarding the accident; law enforcement officers had attempted to pull over Johnathon Simms for speeding.  Instead of pulling over, the suspect sped away and the police initiated a high speed pursuit with speeds reaching nearly 90 miles an hour.

After only a few minutes the law enforcement officers decided to back off when Simms turned onto Aviation Boulevard. Once on Aviation Boulevard, Simms sped down the wrong side of the road and crashed head on into Ms. Donner’s vehicle, killing her instantly.

This unfortunate incident is a perfect illustration of innocent victims dying or being seriously injured because of high speed police pursuits.

Although the NHTSA does not have a mandatory reporting system, there are some reports that the actual number of annual fatalities is between 400 and 500. The causes of high speed pursuits can be broken down as follows:

  • 42.3% Traffic violation
  • 18.2% Vehicle was believed to be stolen
  • 14.9% Driver believed to be intoxicated (DWI)
  • 8.6% Violent felony
  • 7.5% Non-violent felony
  • 5.9% Other misdemeanor
  • 2.6% Assisting other department

100.0% Total — The IACP Police Pursuit Database, 2008, page 56 (pdf)

Baltimore car accident lawyer John Yannone commented, “Often, it seems that officers engage in high speed pursuits when there is no need, e.g. a traffic violation, and put the public at risk. High speed police pursuits can present a significant public safety concern, especially with suspects who are determined to evade capture.”

Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of training, liability, and reporting in relation to high speed police pursuits. There are no standard training or policies regarding high speed pursuits across law enforcement agencies. As evidenced by the above percentages, it seems that many high speed pursuits are unnecessary.

2 thoughts on “High Speed Police Pursuits: Law Enforcement Liability and Public Safety

  1. I made a u-turn once out of desperation near the airport and was about 1/4 mile up around a corner when a police car came racing up behind me and pulled me over. First thing the {young} cop said to me was “Look what you made me do…” i.e. drive like a maniac to pull me over. I had no idea I was being pursued. I bit my tongue but I was in no way responsible for him driving like a maniac. The u-turn was not dangerous and a set-up for that little city to get money from people frustrated by the airport traffic difficulties at the pick-up curbs.

  2. I totally agree with the premise, but this is an odd example. The officer had discontinued the pursuit on another street. “But for” is a fraught way to address cause. If there had been no pursuit maybe the pedestrian is alive. If s/he had continued the pursuit maybe the pedestrian is alive. Never pursue? I wonder how many flights that would trigger?

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