When a police chase goes bad, it's always a big story, especially if an innocent bystander is hurt or killed. Such publicity has added to the pressure for various jurisdictions to tighten their chase policies. But there is another side to the story:
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - The two men in the silver Infiniti were pulled over only for having tinted windows - so when the driver hit the gas and fled, the state trooper had no choice but to let them speed away.
The trooper was just following an Illinois State Police policy that allows officers to chase drivers only when they believe someone is in danger or when a violent crime has occurred.
After fleeing from the traffic stop, the men inside the car allegedly went on a crime spree in Illinois corn country, fatally shooting a sheriff's deputy and then taking hostages at a small-town bank. They were arrested hours later.
The case illustrates the limitations of the restricted chase policies adopted by many police departments beginning in the mid-1990s, as news helicopters began televising more pursuits and more bystanders got killed.
Troopers chased the Infiniti only after deputy Tommy Martin was shot as he drove by the suspects going the opposite direction. Some officers have questioned whether the suspects could have been stopped earlier if the pursuit policy were less restrictive.
Indiana, for instance, still allows state troopers to chase drivers who flee traffic stops, even if officers know nothing about them.
Fort Wayne and Allen County have policies that sound good, at least in theory. Their officers have more latitude than officers in Illinois, but the officer in the car doesn't have the final say; the officer is in contact with a supervising officer who can call off the chase at any time if the threat to public safety seems greater than the good of chasing the person who is fleeing. It's a tough call, and I've written editorials that explore both sides without taking a very strong stand one way or the other. Right now, I guess I'd err on the side of letting the police do their jobs and make their best judgment calls.