Whenever someone dies or is seriously injured as a result of a high- speed chase involving local police officers, the same question always arises: Was the chase justified?
About once a year such a chase results in death or injury. The most recent case was only last week, when Boyd Day, 69, of Fillmore, driving his own vehicle, was struck and killed by a car fleeing from Utah Highway Patrol troopers.Tragically, Boyd Day was an innocent bystander.
Significantly, police philosophy about high-speed chases has changed over the past 10 years in an effort to avoid such tragedies.
Police agencies now have guidelines such as the severity of the offense, the nature of the suspect, the time of day and the area and street involved, which help them to decide whether to pursue a suspect and when to terminate a chase.
This means that a chase is more likely on a highway than a city street, and that someone suspected of robbing a bank is more likely to be pursued than someone with an expired registration.
Nevertheless, the decision is left to each officer to decide when to begin or terminate a chase.
The problem with terminating a chase is that such an act almost never results in the person being chased slowing down.
Even though officers are being trained to evaluate the risks involved, continuing tragedies suggest that we can't be certain that their decisions will be the right ones.
The fact is that the importance of immediately apprehending the driver of a vehicle who may be in violation of the law almost never outweighs the risks of causing injury or death, especially to bystanders.
When former Gov. J. Bracken Lee was mayor of Price in the late 1930s, he determined through a test case that there was only a minute's difference in conducting a high-speed chase through the center of town vs. a normal trip during which all traffic laws were obeyed.
It is time for local police agencies in the 1990s to consider abandoning the high-speed chase altogether.