PRESS EDITORIAL: Dangerous driving: high-speed police chases

On a night in November, an Ozaukee County deputy sheriff was parked in his patrol vehicle in the median of I-43 in the Town of Saukville when a southbound car sped past at a radar-timed speed of more than 100 mph.

The deputy activated his light array and siren and followed, but the speeding driver refused to stop, and the officer gave chase at speeds up to 120 mph, according to court records. The pursued car finally pulled over near

the Pioneer Road exit. The driver was a 21-year-old resident of Milwaukee, and she had a passenger—a 13-month-boy sitting untethered in a child’s car seat on the front seat of the vehicle.

That was one of several hair-raising episodes recounted in a news story in last week’s Ozaukee Press about the increase in high-speed police chases on Ozaukee roads. There have been 10 involving the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office so far this year.

A more important statistic would be the number of police chases that have been avoided on highways, roads and streets in the county. All of the police agencies in Ozaukee County have signed on to a comprehensive pursuit policy aimed at limiting one of the most dangerous of all interactions between police and the public.

 Data show that police chases often kill officers, suspects and innocent bystanders, but rarely prevent violent crime. A study by USA Today found that from 1980 to 2015 in the U.S., at least 11,500 people were killed in police vehicle chases, more than 5,000 of whom were bystanders or passengers.

An analysis by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that by far most police pursuits are due to traffic violations, with only 9% of chases linked to violent crimes.

The high volume of tragic unintended consequences has led to a national trend among police jurisdictions to enact pursuit policies that take into account the risk to innocent drivers, passengers and pedestrians, as well as to officers. Many police agencies limit chases to only those believed to involve violent felonies.

The pursuit policy that guides the Sheriff’s Office and city and village police departments in Ozaukee County does not go that far. But it does set standards that call for high-speed chases to be avoided or abandoned if they are judged to cause excessive risk to the public or the officer or if there are alternative means to apprehend the reckless driver.

“When we start seeing people fleeing at 110 mph or more, it’s just too risky for everyone involved,” Ozaukee County Undersheriff Christy Knowles said.

An additional safety measure put in place by the Sheriff’s Office gives the shift commander ultimate authority on whether to chase or not, relieving deputies from having to make that decision in what amounts to the heat of battle.

 While the trend toward limiting high-speed police pursuits is encouraging, it is surprising that across the country police officers doing their jobs and unfortunate innocent civilians in their way are still dying as a result of police chases. The advanced electronic devices now used by police offer alternatives that in many cases make highway pursuits a relic of the wild west days of policing.

The decision to carry on the chase that reached a speed of 120 mph could not have been easy, but the result must have been a relief. After being pursued for miles, the reckless driver finally ended the chase by stopping on the freeway shoulder. It was a shock to the officer to find a little boy on the front seat, but the child was unhurt, as were the deputy and the driver, who now faces felony charges of attempting to elude police and endangering safety.

Though the outcome would suggest this  might be called a good police pursuit, it remains true that the best high-speed police chases are often the ones that don’t happen.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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