At around 7:30 pm on January 31, the police were called to say that a Toyota truck had been stolen. They quickly located the vehicle, but as they approached, the driver fired his engine and fled, and a chase began in the San Fernando Valley.
Los Angeles Police Department officers chased the pickup truck at a speed of 120 kilometers per hour. But just minutes after it started, the chase ended at Woodman Avenue and Lanark Street in Panorama City. A loud crash, road signs smashed to the ground, debris littered the road, and two more cars collided completely. Innocent people who had nothing to do with the chase died at the scene.
They were lifelong friends aged 47 and 49 who went out for tacos. They were sitting in their parked Honda Civic thinking about their errands when a stolen truck chased by the police T-bone them.
Nicholas Goldberg has been editorial page editor for 11 years and is former editor of the editorial page and the Sunday Opinion section.
Police chases are an old story in LA Fast chases have long been part of the culture of sprawl, wide boulevards, highways and fast cars. They are exciting and adrenaline pumping. They are real life movie scenes.
But in many cases the result is never pleasant. There have been 4,203 police pursuits since 2018, according to new figures submitted to the Police Commission at the end of April. Of these, more than 1,000, or 25%, caused death or injury.
Worse, half of those killed or injured were bystanders unrelated to the chase, like two friends who went out for tacos.
This is a shocking number of innocent victims, but this is nothing new.
In 2015, James Quilly reported on The Times about the dangers of police pursuits in Los Angeles. “In Los Angeles, chases have long been part of police lore and a staple of live news on local television.” He found, among other things, that LAPD chases injured bystanders at more than twice the rate of police chases elsewhere in California.
In the years since, there have been more news stories, internal reports, grand jury investigations, additional rules and training. But instead of declining, the number of chases, crashes and injuries has increased fairly steadily from 2018 to the present, according to the LAPD.
According to the California Highway Patrol, 78 bystanders were injured in 2015. But a new report from the LAPD shows an average of 98 bystander injuries per year over the past five years, including 102 in 2021 and 118 in 2022.
Here are a few caveats: more car crashes happen to fugitive suspects than to police. Furthermore, bystander deaths are much less frequent than injuries, with nine “third parties” killed during pursuits since 2018. Also, the majority of injuries are not considered serious and are injuries generally defined as hospitalizations. .
Police also noted that the increase in chases coincided with an increase in auto thefts. Since 2018, 44% of investigations have been for auto theft, 17% for suspected drunk driving, and 11% for reckless driving.
Still, it is unacceptable that nearly 100 innocent bystanders are injured each year in LAPD pursuits. Nine deaths may not sound like much, but when one of her dead is her own child, parent, spouse, friend, or brother, it’s an unbearable number.
“The stolen truck has no value,” said Joelen Ammann, sister of Chris Teagarden, one of the witnesses who died in Panorama City.
Police argue that a complete ban on tracking would create bad motives.
“If you know you won’t be chased, why don’t you run?” L.A. Police Deputy Chief Donald Graham said in an interview.
That’s a reasonable point. But I, like Aman, wonder if it makes sense to roam the streets (injure someone every fourth outing) to catch suspects of relatively minor crimes. thinking.
“Unless you’re chasing a terrorist or a rapist or a murderer, but not a stolen car or stolen TV,” says Jeffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina who studies police. ‘, he says. Efforts since the 1990s. “The return on investment is not good.”
Certainly, the getaway driver may be a parolee with a weapon who does not want to be caught and re-jailed. But people often flee for stupid reasons, Alpert said. For example, they don’t want their driver’s license points to decrease, their license has been suspended, or they might have drunk too much. They can also pay a heavy price for making bad decisions on the fly.
Alpert said police don’t want bad guys to escape, and the adrenaline rush is often enough to keep the chase going.
Alpert points out that many “progressive” cities now limit pursuit of those involved in violent crime. Police in Phoenix, Dallas and Philadelphia have stopped chasing people suspected of misdemeanors.
To my credit, the LAPD has been thinking about these issues. In any pursuit, officers should conduct a balance test to determine “whether the severity of the first or subsequent violations reasonably merits continued pursuit,” according to the department’s manual. is expected.
Pursuing officers are to continuously assess whether they are putting the public at “unreasonable” danger. They consider the weather, traffic conditions and the nature of the area they are in.
And it’s not just the police in the car that decide that. Observers typically monitor tracking and decide in real time whether to continue tracking.
But the Los Angeles Police Department doesn’t limit its investigations to felony or violent crimes.
Deputy Secretary Graham said the department is now analyzing what happened to other cities after adopting more restrictive policies. The analysis, commissioned by the police commission, will look not only at whether the number of injuries and deaths has fallen, but also how the new rules have affected crime.
If the data calls for it, the Los Angeles Police Department should change the rules. Yes, there will be fewer car chases entertaining us on TV. However, the police should cooperate in preventing injuries, not in causing them.