The number of police chases rose 155% from 2017 to 2018, a consequence of decisions loosening restrictions on when police can engage in car chases, according to a new report by the Fire and Police Commission.
The number of chases increased sharply in 2018
The rules governing chases became more restrictive before they became less restrictive. Before 2010, a chase was authorized if a an officer had reasonable grounds to believe the suspect posed an immediate threat to safety or was involved in a serious offense, or if the necessity of apprehension outweighed the dangers of a pursuit, according to the "2018 City of Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission Vehicle Pursuit Report."
In 2010, responding to concerns about chase-related deaths, police tightened the policy to require that an officer have probable cause to believe that a violent felony has occurred or was about to occur.
Then, in 2015, the policy was revised again, this time in response to an increase in carjackings. The restrictions were loosened - the officer could initiate pursuit if he or she had reason to believe the vehicle itself – and not just a person inside it – was involved in a crime.
Finally, in 2017, the policy was loosened yet again, allowing police to chase cars involved in reckless driving or if the occupants were involved in drug dealing.
The number of injuries increased in 2018
Of the third-party injuries in 2018, eight were described as serious, and 18 were described as minor. The rest were described as either "pain," "no apparent injury," or "possible injury," according to the report. (A single pursuit can result in more than one injury.)
There were 165 injuries among those who were chased. Five injuries were fatal. Seven injuries were classified as major, 14 as moderate, and 137 as minor.
Twenty Police Department members were injured in chases last year. Two were injured in two separate accidents, meaning there were 22 total injuries. One officer's injuries were fatal, two had major injuries, and 19 were minor.
"Of the 22 employee injuries, 15 (68 percent) were reported to be using safety equipment and 7 (32 percent) were reported to not be using safety equipment," the report said.
The number of accidents shot up in 2018, but the percentage of chases resulting in accidents rose just 2.5 percentage points
Reckless driving was the main reason police initiated vehicle chases in 2018
Slightly more than half of 2018 chases reached speeds of more than 75 mph
Fewer than 40% of 2018 chases resulted in apprehension of the suspect
The report discusses charges requested when suspects are caught, but not the charges issued or charges of conviction.
The most frequently sought charges, according to the report, were those directly related to the chase, such as fleeing or recklessly endangering safety.
Beyond those types of cases, police accused 581 people of operating the automobiles without the owners' consent, 101 people of possessing a controlled substance with intent to deliver, 96 of possessing controlled substances, and 88 of being felons in possession of firearms.
Most 2018 chases ended because they were terminated by police or because the suspect escaped
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