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Pedestrians and Motorists Die in NYC Police Chases

High-speed police chases make news. However, such police actions all-too-often cause injury and death to innocent bystanders, suspects and police officers themselves. Whether these chases are really necessary has become a controversial question.

This has been an issue for some time, not just in New York City, but across the country. A 1995 article in the New York Times reported on the Tampa, Florida, police department and its more relaxed attitude toward high-speed chases. At the time, many police departments were limiting the circumstances under which law enforcement officers were allowed to chase suspects, and Tampa’s less stringent rules, and the injuries and deaths they caused, draw criticism and scrutiny. The same article also reported on a study that showed 35-40 percent of all high-speed police chases ended in some type of car accident or other motor vehicle crash.

A 2010 report by the FBI stated that the majority of high-speed chases in the U.S. involved traffic violations, not felony suspects.  The second sobering fact is that one person dies each day in the U.S. as a result of a high-speed police chase. Of people who died as a result of high-speed chases, 42 percent were people who just happened to be in the wrong place.

Despite scrutiny, New York police continue to use the high-speed chase as a tactic.  Last month, police chased some alleged robbers in Queens, causing them to crash into a deli.  The car and the store caught fire.  Also in September, a New Jersey chase ended when the suspect crashed her car and fled on foot with a six-year-old girl.  Although neither the suspect nor the child was injured, this story could have easily ended differently.  Last March, a traffic stop and ensuing chase resulted in a pedestrian being injured at Manhattan’s Columbus Circle.

In 2013, a four-year-old child was killed when a SUV jumped the curb while being pursued by police.  The tragedy occurred at 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue where the child was walking on the sidewalk with her grandmother.  In 2010, another high-speed chase ended in death when the suspect vehicle ran a red light and hit two elderly women standing in a traffic circle.  One of them later died.

The NYPD patrol guide requires that vehicle pursuits be stopped when the risks to police and the public outweigh the danger to the community if suspects are not apprehended right away.  -However, it is clear from the track record of the New York Police Department that this policy is not always followed.