Opinion: Its LA’s high speed, high adrenaline

Nabil Anas
Nabil Anas

Global Courant 2023-05-08 15:05:14

At around 7:30 p.m. on January 31, police received a call about a stolen Toyota truck. They quickly found it, but as they approached, the driver started the engine and fled, and a chase began through the San Fernando Valley.

Los Angeles Police Department officers chased the pickup at speeds of up to 79 mph. But just a few minutes after the chase began, the chase on Woodman Avenue and Lanark Street in Panorama City came to an end, with a thunderous crash from a collision, a street sign falling to the ground, trash scattered across the road — and two completely innocent men who had nothing to do with the chase died on the spot.

They were lifelong friends, 47 and 49 years old, who had gone out for tacos. They were minding their own business in a parked Honda Civic when the stolen truck, chased by police, attacked them.

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Opinion columnist

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg served as editor of the editorial page for 11 years and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and Sunday Opinion section.

Police chases are an old story in LA High speed chases have long been part of the culture of sprawl, wide boulevards, freeways and fast cars. They are thrilling and adrenaline fueled; they are lifelike movie scenes.

But usually the results are anything but entertaining. According to new figures presented to the Board of Police Commissioners at the end of April, there have been 4,203 police pursuits since 2018. More than 1,000 of those – 25% – resulted in death or injury.

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Even worse, half of the people who died or were injured were bystanders, like the two friends who went to get tacos, with no connection to the chase.

That’s a shocking number of innocent victims, but it’s nothing new.

In 2015, James Queally reported in De Tijd about the dangers of police chases in Los Angeles, “where chases have long been part of the lore and a staple of live newscasts on local television.” He found, among other things, that LAPD car chases injured bystanders more than twice as often as police car chases in the rest of California.

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In the years since, there have been more news reports, internal reports, a grand jury investigation, and some additional rules and training. But instead of declining, the number of chases, collisions and injuries has risen fairly steadily from 2018 to today, according to the LAPD.

According to the California Highway Patrol, 78 bystanders were injured in 2015. But the LAPD’s new report shows an average of 98 bystander injuries per year over the past five years, with 102 in 2021 and 118 in 2022.

Here are some caveats: It’s more often the fleeing suspects who end up in collisions than the police. In addition, bystander deaths are much, much less common than injuries: Nine “third parties” have been killed in car chases since 2018. And of the injuries, the vast majority are not considered serious, which is generally defined as hospitalization.

Police also note that the increase in chases has coincided with an increase in car thefts. In the period since 2018, 44% of chases involved auto theft, 17% suspected DUIs, and 11% reckless driving.

Yet it is unacceptable that LAPD car chases injure nearly 100 innocent bystanders every year. And while nine deaths may not sound like a lot, it’s a completely unacceptable number if one of the deaths was your child, parent, spouse, friend, or sibling.

“A stolen truck isn’t worth it,” said Joellen Ammann, the sister of Chris Teagarden, one of the bystanders who died in Panorama City.

Police say banning chases completely would create bad incentives.

“If you know with impunity that you will not be pursued, why not run?” LAPD Deputy Chief Donald Graham said in an interview.

That’s a fair point. But I also doubt, like Ammann, whether there is any point in rampaging through the city (every fourth time someone is injured) to catch people suspected of relatively petty crimes.

“If you’re chasing a terrorist, a rapist, or a murderer, that’s one thing — but not for a stolen car or a stolen TV,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina who studied policing. activities since the 1990s. “It’s not a good return on investment.”

Sure, sometimes the fleeing driver is a parole with a gun that doesn’t want to be caught and locked up again. But people often flee for stupid reasons, Alpert says: they don’t want points on their driver’s license or it’s suspended or they’re afraid they’ve had one too many drinks. They sometimes pay heavily for those bad impulsive decisions.

Police are often tempted to continue the chase rather than call it off because they don’t want to let a bad guy escape and because of the adrenaline rush, Alpert says.

Alpert notes that many “progressive” cities now limit pursuits to violent crimes. Police in Phoenix, Dallas and Philadelphia have stopped chasing suspects of violations.

The LAPD, to its credit, has thought about these issues. During any pursuit, officers are expected to conduct a balance test to determine, among other things, “whether the seriousness of the initial offense or any subsequent offenses reasonably warrants continuation of the pursuit.” according to the department handbook.

Officers in pursuits are supposed to continually evaluate whether they are putting the public at “unreasonable” risk. They take into account weather and traffic conditions and the nature of the neighborhood in which they are located.

And it’s not just the cops in the car who decide; there are generally supervisors who follow the chase and decide in real time whether to continue.

But the LAPD doesn’t limit its pursuits to misdemeanor or violent crimes.

Deputy Chief Graham said the department is currently analyzing how other cities have fared after adopting more restrictive policies. The analysis, requested by the police commission, not only looks at whether there were fewer injuries and deaths, but also what effect the new rules had on crime.

If the data calls for it, the LAPD should change its rules. Yes, there will be less chases on TV to entertain us. But the police should help prevent injuries – they shouldn’t help cause them.


Opinion: Its LA’s high speed, high adrenaline

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