Police shootings have dominated the headlines, however, police pursuits have injured and killed more individuals over the last several years, and the Chicago-area statistics are shockingly high.
Injury and Death Rates from Police Chases on the Rise in Chicago
One study by the U.S. Department of Justice referred to police pursuits as the most dangerous activity conducted by police. This same study found that there are many more police chases than police shootings in the U.S. each year. A recent investigation by USA Today discovered that more individuals are injured or killed in the Chicago area due to police pursuits than any other area in the U.S., with the exception of Los Angeles.
Over the past 10 years, 108 people were killed and 216 people were injured in accidents due to police pursuits in Chicago. In a majority of these cases, either the pursuing officer or an innocent bystander, and not the fleeing driver or passenger was injured.
Unfortunately, these rates are not improving. Between 2006 and 2012, 18 bystanders, who were in no way involved, were killed during police chases. In the three years since that time, from 2013 to 2016, another 18 more deaths occurred.
The Reason for the Increase
Law enforcement experts believe that Chicago’s complicated policies surrounding police pursuits may be contributing to the injuries in the area. Much of the decision to begin a police chase is left up to the officer’s discretion in Chicago, which differs from the policies in place in other areas in the country.
In cities like Orlando and Milwaukee, for example, police officers may only chase someone suspected to be a violent felon. Many departments let their officers begin a chase if the risk of letting someone go significantly outweighs the risk posed by a pursuit.
Officers in Chicago are often required to make split-second decisions when it comes to police chases, with little intervention. In their haste to capture escaping criminals, many officers don’t think through their decisions, and the potential harm that they might cause.
Police Chase Injury Statistics
When reviewing the statistics surrounding police pursuits in Chicago, it is clear who faces the most danger. Forty eight percent of those injured in police pursuits are innocent bystanders. In comparison, 11% are pursing police, 17% are fleeing passengers, 18% are fleeing drivers and 6% are unknown.
Across the country, more than 5,000 bystanders have been killed in police chases since 1979. Most of these deaths involved individuals who were killed in their own cars when hit by fleeing drivers.
The number of deaths caused by police pursuits in the U.S. in 2013 increased to 322, up from 317 in 1990.
Both of the previously mentioned reports found that most police chases began after relatively minor incidents. In Chicago, a third of pursuit-related crashes started because of a traffic violation. Thirteen percent of Chicago chases involved suspected stolen vehicles.
According to a 2008 Police Foundation paper, very few fleeing drivers are wanted felons. A Justice Department study found that 32% of fleeing drivers took off because they were driving a stolen car, nearly 30% because they had a suspended drivers license and 21% because they were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Inconsistency of Data
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the agency responsible for keeping information regarding the causes of deadly crashes in the U.S. The number of traffic deaths due to police chases may be under-reported. Federal data is not always consistent with local data, when it comes to the number of deadly crashes caused at the hands of another.
Records presented by the NHTSA also rarely include data that indicates whether death occurred to an innocent bystander, or someone directly involved in a police chase, an important differentiation. While the agency does keep information regarding crashes that end in death, they do not record accidents that lead only to injuries. Because there is no federal database of this type of accident, it would be very difficult to determine the full scope of the problem.
The Chicago Police Department’s Traffic Review Board is required to meet bi-monthly to review each police pursuit that results in serious injury or death. Reports summarizing their findings are not available to the general public.
Liability in Police-Chase Cases
Whenever a bystander is injured or killed in a police pursuit, the family may be able to seek compensation. A Chicago personal injury attorney can provide additional information regarding the law surrounding the injury of innocent bystanders.
Over the last 10 years, over $95 million has been paid out in civil settlements and judgments resulting from police pursuits in Chicago. The number of lawsuits has increased over the past three years, at approximately the same rate as the number of injuries.