Someone in a position of authority should examine the law-enforcement decisions that allowed a non-violent crime in Berea to produce a high-speed, 60-mile pursuit on Interstates 75 and 64 on Feb. 4, ending with the suspect crashing into another car in Franklin County.
Police say the fleeing suspect drove at speeds of 120 mph and passed on the shoulder.
Kentucky State Police became involved in the pursuit around Exit 95 (Ky. 627 to Winchester) on I-75 and brought the suspect to a halt by deploying a spike-strip tire-deflating device on I-64 just east of the Kentucky River bridge between the Frankfort exits.
The suspect swerved around the device and crashed into a car. The driver of that car was transported to a hospital where she was treated and released. At least one other car not involved in the chase had tires flattened.
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I-64 westbound was closed for several hours after the crash.
Berea police began the pursuit after receiving a silent alarm from a bank and realized only later that the fleeing suspect and his companion were not accused of bank robbery but of using a stolen credit card to obtain cash at several locations in Madison County.
It’s unclear that a pursuit would have been justified even if it had been a bank robbery, however. It’s also unclear whether a monitoring supervisor should have called off the pursuit before putting so many motorists in danger.
Under policies recommended by the Kentucky League of Cities, police should initiate pursuits only in response to a violent felony or when there is evidence of outrageous, reckless driving generally associated with driving under the influence. Officers should weigh the “totality of the circumstances” to avoid harm to themselves or the public.
Lexington has a similar policy that requires officers to weigh the danger posed by the suspect against the danger created by the pursuit. Lexington police did not participate in the pursuit though it went through Lexington.
Louisville‘s policy goes even further to protect the public. It requires officers to stop, turn around and drive in the opposite direction to show they are not following suspects in cases in which the public is not endangered.
Louisville enacted its policy in late 2012 after seven people, including innocent motorists, were killed in police pursuits in the prior five years. Since then, pursuits and pursuit-related injuries and deaths have sharply declined.
In Kentucky, 171 people were killed in police pursuits between 1979 and 2013, according to an analysis by USA Today, including three officers, 99 fleeing drivers and 69 citizens who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In addition to the potential loss of life, police pursuits that maim and kill produce costly lawsuits for taxpayers.
Lexington’s policy requires reports on pursuits and a periodic review of all pursuits by the Public Integrity Unit.
Based on conversations with KSP public affairs officers at the Frankfort and Richmond posts, we’re not sure what kind of review if any, beyond the usual case reports, will follow the Feb. 4 pursuit. We were advised to file an Open Records request to obtain the KSP policy on pursuits.
Thankfully, no one was killed or seriously injured. But it’s easy to imagine a less happy ending.
A review might conclude that officers made the correct call under the circumstances. The public deserves to know that such decisions are retrospectively scrutinized and that there’s accountability for decisions that endanger the public.