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Police Pursuit Accidents Result in High Fatalities – April 30, 2010

A USA Today review has found that high speed police chases account for about a third of all pursuit deaths. The National Highway Traffic Safety Admistration has estimated that about 360 people die in police pursuits per year. The deaths of so many innocent bystanders in these high speed chases has some communities questioning their policies, restricting pursuits only to those involving violent crime.

Some proponents of more restrictive policies claim that the number of deaths estimated from these high speed pursuit type of accidents are low because there are no mandatory reporting requirements for the 17,000 law enforcement departments in the country. Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina believes the number is “three or four time higher” than the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate. He estimates that 35-40 percent of all police chases end in crashes, and that more restrictive policies are gaining traction “because chasing someone for a traffic offense or a property offense is not worth the risk of people’s lives and well-being.”

John Phillips lost his sister Sarah at the age of 20. She was an innocent bystander killed in a police pursuit accident in Orange County, Florida in 2001 Mr. Phillips is now the head of PursuitWatch.org, a non-profit group advocating for safer police chases. “The sad thing is when departments make changes, it’s usually after something bad happens, and the public wakes up and says, ‘What’s going on here?’ “

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