It is easy to criticize law-enforcement personnel for reckless chases that endanger lives, sometimes over minor criminal offenses that do not merit hot pursuit. Such concern has led to positive modifications of pursuit policies in Salt Lake City and several other agencies along the Wasatch Front, which is good.
An episode last Saturday morning provided a litmus test when an allegedly intoxicated woman commandeered a $350,000 Salt Lake City fire truck and took it on a high-speed spin - running numerous lights in the process. Officers involved passed with flying colors and showed wisdom in giving restrained pursuit.Salt Lake's restrictive policy includes not chasing stolen vehicles - even fire engines. Because of that, Salt Lake police terminated their official involvement in the chase within the first few minutes. Making a good, clear-headed decision in the heat of the excitement, officers and their supervisor deemed it too dangerous to chase the large truck through city streets.
Salt Lake police Lt. Phil Kirk noted that "pursuits are terminated when the immediate danger in pursuing is greater than the offense" committed by the driver of a fleeing vehicle. In this case, besides vehicle theft, the charged offense was drunken driving.
Pursuing the stolen truck with lights and sirens going would have possibly forced the thief to drive faster and more recklessly, needlessly escalating the incident and adding to the danger.
Salt Lake officers still nabbed their suspect and reclaimed the truck, with the assistance of other police agencies and Gold Cross Ambulance. Though the vehicle suffered $5,000 damage, the chance for greater destruction and even death would have risen with reckless pursuit.
Pulling back and working cooperatively with other agencies, who also deserve commendation for their prudent assistance, was certainly the way to go for Salt Lake officers.