LAPD Chases Injure Bystanders More Than Any Other Police Dept. In The State
An L.A. Times investigation of California Highway Patrol data found that bystanders were injured in one for every 10 LAPD pursuits; twice the rate as police chases for the rest of the state. From 2006 to 2014, 334 bystanders were injured in California, and 9 were killed.
The L.A. Times reports that experts believe the data can be attributed to the LAPD policy that allows officers to pursue drivers who are suspected of "relatively minor offenses," like drunk or reckless driving—drivers who are more likely to drive faster and less carefully while trying to evade police.
Geoff Alpert, a USC professor who wrote a report on police pursuits for the National Institute of Justice told the Times, "You’re making the likelihood of a crash higher...The fleeing suspect’s eyes are glued to the rear-view mirror. He’s not driving well, and you’re going to make him go faster. It doesn’t make any sense."
According to the report:
Reckless drivers were suspects in 12% of LAPD chases from 2006 to 2014, more than double the state average of 5%, the Times analysis found. Suspected drunken drivers were the target of 13% of LAPD chases compared to 5% statewide.
"The LAPD’s policy results in more bystander injuries. They may be catching people at a higher rate, but this is something that residents of Los Angeles should decide,” said Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California. “Do they want their police department to chase more aggressively?"
Other police departments in the state, including Long Beach, San Francisco, and San Jose, limit chases to drivers who present an immediate danger to the public or are suspected of violent felonies. While the LAPD doesn't have such limits, officials argue that it's not their fault anyway:
Much of the blame, they argue, falls on the city’s sprawling web of multilane thoroughfares and highways, which they say allow suspects to move at greater speeds and make wild turns through traffic, greatly increasing the likelihood that someone may be hurt.
"Our officers that go in pursuit are putting themselves at risk," said Lt. David Ferry, who reviews all pursuits involving LAPD officers. "Not that they want to do it, but we believe that is what the public wants."
In 2005, a new statewide law toughened sentences for fleeing from police, increased pursuit training for officers and required police to report all their pursuit data to the CHP. The legislation appeared to have an immediate effect: pursuits fell sharply through the state, as did the number of injured bystanders, which dropped from 376 injuries statewide in 2005 to 172 in 2010. Since then, however, bystander injuries rose back up, and counted 260 across the state in 2014.
But pedestrians don't just face danger during high-speed pursuits; law enforcement agents can pose a threat to street safety even when they're responding to a call. Just last week, a bystander was killed in West Hollywood after L.A. County sheriff's deputies were in the midst of responding to a domestic violence call.