Police Pursuit Liability
One of the most important duties of police officers is to prevent crime from happening. In the light of this objective, part of the regular duties of police officers is to go on patrol to improve police visibility. As they patrol the community, police officers have the responsibility to stop motor vehicles in case the driver commits a violation of motor vehicle law or in case the driver or his companions engage in suspicious activities.
Ordinarily, motor vehicle stops are supposed to last a few minutes after the driver is issued a traffic citation and the driver leaves or ones the officer satisfies himself that no criminal activity is taking place and the driver leaves. There are situations however when drivers of vehicles who are asked to stop attempts to elude the police officers’ command to stop and flees. In these situations the police officers may engage in motor vehicle pursuit to arrest the individual either for traffic violation or for committing any other crime.
While high-speed car chases may be exciting to watch whether in the big screen as part of a movie or live as an actual real-life event being shown on T.
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V. , it has a lot of consequences. Motor vehicle pursuits lead to damaged properties, injuries and deaths to innocent civilians and even costly lawsuits. (The Christian Science Monitor 1) It need not be emphasized how dangerous high-speed pursuits are. They are dangerous not only in the freeways in view of the speed at which cars are running but they are even more dangerous in the city where people may be crossing the street every so often.
While systematic study of the extent of the dangers of high speed pursuits is scarce, there is sufficient evidence to conclude that they are risky and dangerous to the public. According to a research conducted by Erik Beckman, an associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University who has done studies on police chases out of the 424 police pursuits done by 75 police departments in 11 states, one in seven pursuits ended in an injury and one in 33 resulted in a death. Philip J. O’Connor 2) The danger of police pursuits is even highlighted in a report of the California Highway Patrol which stated that in 2005 law enforcement officers were involved in 7,942 pursuits that resulted in more than 1,200 injuries to people and 32 deaths. (Jason Dearen 2)
The national statistics is even worse as according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration affirms these findings and stated that more than 350 people die each year from police chases. “VOA News: Supreme Court May Limit Police in High-Speed Chases” 1) In view of the injuries and deaths mostly involving the suspects themselves who flee after police officers have ordered them to stop, the suspects themselves or their relatives have filed suits against the police officers mostly for violating their constitutional rights under the Fourth and the Fourteenth Amendment.
In some cases, even the bystanders and pedestrians injured by the suspects have filed cases against police officers for causing their injury. Some of these cases have resulted in civil liabilities being adjudged against the police department involved. In view of these decisions, police officers have become apprehensive in conducting motor vehicle pursuits. There is therefore a need to set policies on police pursuits.