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Finding a balance to keep public safe

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Police departments across the nation face a tough dilemma - to chase a fleeing suspect or to back off a pursuit because of public safety concerns. Either way, there are no winners.

For quite some time, police departments have tried to balance the issue of public safety with the need to capture and arrest fleeing suspects. Innocent motorists and bystanders have been killed by fleeing suspects being pursued by police. But by issuing an order prohibiting chasing suspects, police put criminals on notice that they are virtually free to flee. Put simply, there's not an easy answer.

St. Louis police faced that very issue last week when two suspects in a stolen vehicle fled from police. Adhering to department policy, the police officers followed the suspects as best they could from a distance without hitting the high speeds of the criminals. And then it happened. The criminals struck and killed an innocent motorists despite the no-chase policy. So does the policy work or not?

Police later arrested a 15 year-old suspect who confessed to stealing the vehicle and trying to flee from authorities. The courts will now decide if the suspect is to be tried as an adult for second-degree murder.

Somewhere there is a policy and a plan that will balance the two competing issues. I don't believe society nor law enforcement is served when we handcuff police and prohibit them from chasing a suspect in a vehicle. It seems to me we are trying to find a solution by handicapping the wrong people. We disallow police from doing their job in the name of public safety but public safety is compromised when criminals know they can flee without concern from law enforcement.

This argument falls far short when talking with a family member of an innocent bystander killed in one of these spectacular chases. And I can understand their argument. But when criminals know they can flee - flee they will. And little is solved.

Perhaps someday technology will offer an improvement on catching criminals while at the same time answering the concerns of the public. But until then, police should be free to perform their services. After all, it's the criminals that are the target - not the police.



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