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More Than 70 Bystanders Were Injured During LAPD Pursuits In 2015

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Police chases are so common in sprawling Los Angeles that they've become a cliche. But unlike fictional television chases, the streets don't get closed off to real traffic and pedestrians when they occur. They are, in fact, actually dangerous. In 2015, a total of 78 bystanders were injured during pursuits in which the LAPD was trying to apprehend a suspect. This total does not include injuries sustained by suspects or officers, only people who happened to be caught in the crossfire.

According to the L.A. Times, this makes 2015 the unlucky winner for the past decade. While the average number of injuries per year is 45, the highest number of chase-related injuries had been 61, back in 2005. This year's total for Los Angeles was four times higher when compared to other parts of California.

The LAPD argues that the stats are higher in L.A. because of the sprawl. Cars can travel faster here than in denser cities or along tighter roadways with fewer lanes. And, they say, most of the reported injuries were minor. Nine bystanders, however, have been killed in the last 10 years.

Jack Phoenix, a 15-year-old boy, was killed last November when a man driving 90 mph in a stolen Buick LaSabre crashed into him as he crossed Venice Boulevard in Palms. Phoenix was decapitated and died instantly.

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The driver was arrested several days later. However, the LAPD does not consider what happened a pursuit, because they never tried to stop the driver. They were following him, but they did not have their lights and sirens on at the time. The LAPD does not track bystander incidents that are not related to official pursuits.

The LAPD has been making changes to policies regarding chases since 2015, and those changes will be made public when they're ready to be sent to the Police Commission for approval. Critics of pursuits question the types of crimes LAPD officers are allowed to give chase for, suggesting that only violent crimes are worth the risk. Currently, LAPD officers may pursue suspected car thefts and DUIs. Impaired drivers are certainly a danger, but they're even more hazardous when taking risks and driving at higher speeds to evade officers. LAPD Lt. David Ferry argues that car thieves are important to catch, as some steal cars in order to use them in greater crimes.

Noni Onossian and her husband told ABC 7 that, in 1998, they were driving down Melrose when they crashed head-on into a man who was trying to escape police over a relatively minor infraction: he'd allegedly been speeding with expired tags. Onossian suffered fractures to her pelvis, knee, jaw and skull.

Police chases continue to fascinate those who are able to safely watch them from a television. The Washington Post reports that over 90 million people watched O.J. Simpson wind a white Ford Bronco through Los Angeles, though that was a low-speed and fairly low-risk chase. Two men who would become known as the "drop-top bandits" did donuts and taunted police in bustling Hollywood in a rented Mustang this past spring.