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Risk-versus-benefit debate restarted by recent police chases

Monday, February 18, 2013

Three people were detained by Cape Girardeau police after a pursuit ended Thursday, Feb. 14, at the intersection of Cape Rock Road and Perryville Road.
(Adam Vogler)
Several recent high-speed police pursuits in Southeast Missouri again have given rise to a debate that's almost as old as the wheel: When suspects flee, should police give chase?

It's a question that has been debated in public for years and stayed true at the local level this month, which has seen two cases -- one in Cape Girardeau and one near Perryville, Mo., -- in which traffic stops turned into potentially deadly police chases.

Sunday found law enforcement reiterating that the police practice is a necessary evil, while those who oppose it still say it's too risky and has only grown worse.

Jackson resident John Pfefferkorn, for example, has largely opposed the so-called hot pursuit of suspects since he had a family member killed in such a chase decades ago when the relative was a teenager. The relative, who Pfefferkorn didn't want to identify publicly, wasn't a hardened criminal, he said, but a young man who had just received his driver's license and was scared of getting a ticket.

"It's not always necessary, especially when it puts the public at risk," Pfefferkorn said.

The statistics bear out that such chases do not come without a risk. According to the FBI, one person dies every day as the result of police pursuits. A survey of pursuits from the mid-to-late 1990s showed, on average, one police officer was killed every 11 weeks in a pursuit, and 1 percent of all U.S. law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty lost their lives in vehicle pursuits, the bureau said. Innocent third parties who happened to be in the way constitute 42 percent of people killed or injured in police pursuits. Further, 1 out of every 100 high-speed pursuits results in a fatality, the bureau said.

Pfefferkorn was surprised it isn't more. When he heard about the Cape Girardeau man who was arrested after leading Perry County police on a chase that hit 110 mph -- with a 3-year-old girl in the suspect's back seat -- he was livid. The suspect told police later that he believed he had a warrant, but he found out afterward he didn't.

"I don't want to come off as being unsupportive of the police in any fashion," Pfefferkorn said Sunday. "It's not the police as a whole. It's that individual's decision. He made a bad one. He put that child in danger, and I'm talking about the policeman."

Police officials from Cape Girardeau and Perry counties countered by saying it's their job to keep the streets free of people who may be out to do harm. Police are trained to keep the chases as safe as they can while keeping an eye on the goal of catching a suspect.

Perry County Sheriff Gary Schaaf said that officers themselves have to weigh the risk and take several factors into consideration, such as time of day, traffic loads, information -- if any -- of the suspect and other safety risks.

"It has to be the officer's decision and he doesn't have much time to weigh it," Schaaf said. "We don't always like it, but we have to think about the damage a dangerous suspect can do if we let him go."

On Thursday night, Cape Girardeau police captured a suspect wanted in Arkansas for several felonies. He and two others were taken into custody only after he led police up and down city streets in evening traffic.

Interim police chief Roger Fields, like his Perry County counterpart, insisted his officers made the right call. In both cases, it should be noted, no one was injured.

Still, Fields said, "Yes, we're fortunate it didn't get any worse than it did," he said. "There are always those risks. But the officers can terminate those proceedings at any time. But this was a good call. When people are actively committing violent crimes, you need to get that stopped."



Perry County, Mo.

Cape Girardeau, Mo.

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If those idiots would not run there would not be any high speed chases!!!!!!!!!

-- Posted by bagman75 on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 7:18 AM

Hey Scott, Why not do a follow up with local facts of how much property tax and deaths associated with high speed pursuits--say over the last 6 or 7 years?

Cape and Caruthersville come to mind with deaths, one being a LEO. It is very rare for Cape pursuits to end without a damaged police car and/or other property damage.

-- Posted by resource_support on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 7:24 AM

I forgot, dig for how many LEOs jump on the high pursuit follow the leader in each of the chases.

I can think of one Cape case that went through two school zones and had at least 12-15 police cars and several emergency vehicles.

-- Posted by resource_support on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 7:26 AM

Yep, and that chase caught a person who attempted to take a woman and rape her and then hit a patrol car when the police attempted to arrest him and then attempted to shoot at police. This was not someone who was wanted for no drivers license. A violent person who is off the streets. Sometimes the police cannot ask "mother may I".

-- Posted by Thelegend on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 7:53 AM

Why are there increased chases? Why does it seem like there are more violent crimes and burglaries? What are our mayor and police force doing to curtail these issues? I've not seen city hall or our police department comment on how they are trying to curtail crimes in our city.

-- Posted by aandzdad on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 8:14 AM

Cartman, Had the CGPD taken a moment, thought about and planned the arrest, rather than a knee-jerk reaction, there would NOT have been a chase at all!

A tip was called in, they knew where the man was. He, his passenger and his car were in a parking lot that could have easily been blocked adequately instead of half-hazardly by ONLY two LEOs.

Instead a high speed chase in two school zones with God only knows how many police cars flying across Cape to get in on the thrill. Prompting gun shoots in a school zone. Sorry, CGPD did not earn kudos in that case. IMO

If memory serves, St. Louis County has a much better pursuit policy verse allowing thrill seeking, adrenaline charged LEOs to make decisions that could very well cost lives- including their own (ie Caruthersville), innocent by-standers and the perp. After all, the perp is innocent till proven guilty in a court of law, not deemed guilty by a LEO high pursuit (ie two recent Cape incident).

Not to mention the $10,000s of tax payor monies that have been tallied in these chases.

-- Posted by let_it_snow on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 8:15 AM

I would bet if you were the victim of a crime you would want the LEO's to chase the dirt bag. Why does it always seem that no one blames the criminal? It's always someone else's fault, until you're the victim. Then it's always the LEO's fault for not being there before hand or not getting there fast enough.

-- Posted by Airborne 95B on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 8:25 AM

Lets just take a poll when someone commits a serious crime and see if the public thinks they should be chased.

-- Posted by daniel on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 1:51 PM

The fact remains that many high speed police pusuits do not involve murderers or rapist. Too many end up with someone getting seriously hurt or killed and more often than not, it's someone other than the perp. Just one innocent death or injury due to a high speed chase is one too many!

-- Posted by GREYWOLF on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 2:18 PM

The simple rule of thumb for law enforcement officers should be that the suspect being chased is positively known to be a greater danger to the public than the danger posed by a high speed chase.

Murders and rapists need to be taken off the streets as quickly as possible and if a person suspected of those crimes attempts to run they should be chased. Chasing random traffic violators, probation violators, druggies, & thieves is endangering the public needlessly and making the law enforcement officers the bigger public menace. Law enforcement should get close enough to get some nice video evidence to help identify the driver, then break off the chase to go start the process of busting the evader tomorrow or next week.

The biggest point is that letting a criminal get away on a particular day doesn't mean letting them get away with their crime. The vast majority are going to get caught within a few weeks and they will pay the price not only for the original crime but also the extra penalties for evading. Most of the people evading are not criminal masterminds, they will be standing on their regular street corner or hanging out in their moms basement or girlfriends apartment in a couple days where they can easily be arrested. Maybe 1 criminal evader in 10,000 is going to truly "get away" in the long run, and if that one guy manages to lay low for a decade or two until the statue of limitations completely run out then he likely did a far better job of rehabilitating himself than any prison or jail would have done.

-- Posted by Nil on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 2:41 PM

Having the police protect you and citizens brings risk. Which way do you want it? Maybe he is just someone who is scared of getting a ticket because he has no license. Or, maybe that passenger in the car with him is a child rapist or murderer. Leave the police alone and let them do their job.

-- Posted by momspoppies on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 2:43 PM

Even if "letting them do their job" might put innocent bystanders at risk? What if a family member of yours was injured or killed as a result of a high speed chase, would you still feel the same?

-- Posted by ZU on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 3:03 PM

Scott: The "debate" you cite in your article appears to be limited to one person (the only issue and only individual mentioned in your article who appears to be concerned). And, of course, your source doesn't want to give names or details of the incident, which involved an unidentified "relative" that occurred "decades" ago. But he is very definite on the Perry County incident. Unidentified man takes off with woman's 3 year old child at a high rate of speed .... Pfefferkorn's solution; "let him go". Hey cops, it is only a child, you could probably find the guy in a few weeks. Maybe if you asked the child's mother she would have had a different opinion of what the police should have done?

It appears the only "debate" has been stirred by you. Must be a slow news weekend. But good subject for you since no where in this country are people so critical of the police as in southeast Missouri. If they let the driver get away, they would have been criticized. If they pursue, they would have been criticized. I think Nil's comments are priceless - just wait until the next time the person commits a crime, or the next, or the next. If the next crime happened at Nil's house perhaps he would feel differently. There are a few comments about the "city's lack of effort to curtail crimes." Here's a suggestion to curtail crime: when you find a criminal, arrest the criminal, get them off the street and they will stop committing crimes. Or, you can use the other approach, just let them keep committing crimes until you can "conveniently" arrest them. But them you will complain about the police not doing their job.

-- Posted by ParkerDaws on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 3:49 PM

So Let me get this straight, IF a police car with lights and sirens are on a high speed chase and some driver panics and gets in the way and is killed thats the cops fault? ARE YOU STUPID??? There shouldn't even be an argument! If you see law enforcement coming GET OUT OF THE WAY!!!

-- Posted by Bman69 on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 4:32 PM

ParkerDaws claims "It appears the only "debate" has been stirred by you."

If one has read the Missourian comments on high speed chase articles over the last 5 years, you would know your statement is false.

Many have spoken against the escalating number of high speed chases because of the danger to innocent by-standers and the officiers.

-- Posted by persnickety on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 4:47 PM

I'm pretty sure that if the officer knew there was a three year old child in the car, he probably wouldn't have continued to pursue the suspect. Not all childseats are able to be seen from behind the vehicle. Also, if you have never been in a law enforcement position, you have no frame of reference. I have been in high speed pursuits before, and it's not like I decided to do so to have fun. You have to make a split decision. Odds are, if they are running from the police, they have committed a serious crime. I do understand that's not always the fact, but I'd rather not take a chance and let a murderer or rapist off.

-- Posted by chaffeemp on Mon, Feb 18, 2013, at 4:50 PM

I cannot think of any reason why a high speed chase is necessary in this town. Our police are not trained and equipped to properly handle high speed chases. Just arrest the person at his home. For crying out loud!

-- Posted by Beaker on Tue, Feb 19, 2013, at 6:48 AM

What about BA daughter on #61 in Jackson?

-- Posted by jackson88parent on Tue, Feb 19, 2013, at 8:18 AM

Bbman..NO! I'm not stupid although your comment borders on it. I found myself in the middle of a chase right here in Cape several years ago at the corner of bloomfield and kingshwy. If just 2 more seconds had passed I would have been hit by a squad car at a VERY high rate of speed coming out of the parking lot in front of roomates. I never saw it coming!! Your post makes little sense and is ridiculous! The perp in that situation was wanted for a drug violation. Police chases in EVERY situation are dangerous period!

-- Posted by GREYWOLF on Tue, Feb 19, 2013, at 11:48 AM

I guess we all have 20/20 hindsight. Don't know. It might be a good idea if every department had clear cut rules about when to pursue. Doubt they do.

-- Posted by 1patriot on Tue, Feb 19, 2013, at 3:38 PM

Best policy I have read "pursuit only if they've used or threatened to use deadly force."

Highlights of Kansas City's pursuit policy:

Officers will not initiate a vehicle pursuit unless they determine that there is reasonable belief that the suspect presents a clear and immediate danger to the safety of others. Factors involved in this decision may include the commission of a violent felony.

A person whose identity is known, who has been involved in a violent felony, and who can be apprehended at a future time generally should not be the subject of a pursuit.

Controlling Supervisor/Commander's Responsibilities 1. Obtain information about the pursuit such as location, speed, traffic density, and reason for pursuit.

Other Vehicle [besides primary and secondary vehicle] Officer's Responsibilities 1. Only operate Code One if given permission by a supervisor to become involved in or get ahead of the pursuit for purposes of traffic control or to deploy stop sticks.


-- Posted by ratiocination on Tue, Feb 19, 2013, at 4:31 PM

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