The number of people killed in high-speed police chases surged in 2014 to its highest level since 2007 despite efforts by police departments to reduce the risks of people getting killed and injured, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
A total of 385 people died in motor-vehicle crashes in 2014 that occurred while police were chasing a vehicle, up 16% from the 333 people killed in 2013, the USA TODAY review of federal records shows.
“A huge percentage of these deaths are unnecessary,” said Jonathan Farris, former chairman of PursuitSAFETY, which advocates to restrict police chases and improve reporting of chase-related deaths and injuries. Farris’ son Paul, 23, was killed in 2007 near Boston by a motorist being chased for a traffic violation.
Approximately 73 of the people killed in 2014 were bystanders — mostly people in their own cars that were hit by a fleeing motorist — and 77 were passengers in the fleeing vehicles. Twelve of those killed were children age 14 or younger, including an infant who had not yet turned one. Five were police officers.
Thousands more people were injured in the chases, which usually begin for minor infractions such as traffic violations. Although the federal government does not count injuries in police chases, five states that do keep track reported that a combined total of 1,764 people were injured in 2014 in their states.
Those states — California, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — make up nearly 23% of the U.S. population, which suggests that more than 7,700 people may have been injured nationwide in police chases in 2014. Records from those states also suggest that there were about 52,000 police chases in 2014.
“There’s been much more pressure on agencies to track these things better,” Yates said. “Departments are forced into being more transparent in 2015, which is a good thing.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an arm of the Department of Transportation, tracks chase-related deaths in its database of fatal motor-vehicle crashes. USA TODAY found inaccuracies in the database that resulted in NHTSA understating the number of people killed in police chases in 2013 by as many as 101 people. NHTSA reviewed USA TODAY’s findings and has added 11 pursuit-related deaths to the 2013 total, which had previously been 322 deaths.
“I would really question whether that 385 is close to accurate,” Farris said of the 2014 death toll. He has been lobbying Congress to require police departments to report each year to the federal government the number of deaths resulting from chases.
The number of chase-related deaths reached a high of 424 in 2007 and has been as low as 246 in 1984. NHTSA began keeping track of the information in 1979.
In recent years, a number of large police departments have adopted policies that allow police to chase only people suspected of violent felonies.
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