Current News



In reversal, more areas allow high-speed police chases

Amanda Hernández, on

Published in News & Features

And some advocates say that there is not enough data to truly understand how effective the state’s initial pursuit policy was.

“It’s really premature for this initiative to have been proposed and adopted,” said Andrew Villeneuve, the executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a left-leaning think tank. “This is really more about the politics for them than the policy.”

The Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs endorsed the measure, saying local pursuit authority is especially important in areas with high rates of car thefts and organized retail thefts, Executive Director Teresa Taylor wrote in an email to Stateline. “The top down, statewide, legislative restrictions were negatively impacting the relationship between law enforcement and the public, a relationship our members care deeply about.”

Limited data and standards

Data on police chases, crashes and fatalities is limited and likely undercounted. While the federal government collects data on fatal crashes, that system relies on the accuracy of information coming from individual police departments. And some departments do not collect or release this data publicly.

Milwaukee, one of the few cities with comprehensive, public pursuit data, saw a dramatic increase in the number of chases resulting in accidents and injuries following a series of restriction rollbacks that began in 2015. In 2022, the number of pursuits reached 1,028, a staggering fifteenfold increase compared with 2010, when there were only 68 pursuits, according to the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission’s 2022 report. The apprehension rate, which measures the percentage of people caught or detained by police following a pursuit, declined from 91.2% in 2010 to 38% in 2022.

An investigation this year by the San Francisco Chronicle, which compiled data from the federal government, private research organizations and news reports, found that at least 3,336 people across the country were killed in pursuits from 2017 through 2022. Most of the pursuits in the Chronicle’s database began over traffic offenses, nonviolent crimes or no crime at all.

One out of 15 people killed in these cases were drivers pursued for suspected violent crimes.

More than half of the fatalities were either non-driving passengers in fleeing vehicles or bystanders. Officers accounted for less than 1% of those killed. The Chronicle’s analysis also found that Black people were killed at a rate four times higher than white people.


“Rollbacks [of strict pursuit policies] ignore a slew of data indicating how immensely dangerous vehicle pursuits are, both to officers and members of the public,” Josh Parker, senior counsel with the New York University Policing Project, said in an interview with Stateline.

There are no national standards or guidelines for when police chases are allowed, according to Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a national nonprofit think tank on policing standards.

But in September 2023, it released a report urging law enforcement agencies to refrain from initiating pursuits unless a violent crime has occurred and the suspect poses an imminent threat to others.

The report, which was written by a committee of experts and policing executives and funded by the federal Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says chases should be rare because the dangers of pursuits to suspects, officers and bystanders often outweigh the urgency of apprehending a suspect.

The report also offers guidance for police departments in crafting pursuit policies that outline when to initiate chases and when to call them off.

Fatal crashes involving police pursuits peaked at 483 in 2022, marking the highest figure since at least 2020 when there were 464 fatal crashes, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency’s data is the sole national source of pursuit-related data, albeit likely incomplete.

“If you don't have a strong policy, then you're putting your officers at a higher risk — the public and the people, the suspects,” Wexler said in an interview. “Policy matters, training matters and supervision matters. Four hundred people dying a year is way too many. We can do better than that.”

©2024 States Newsroom. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


blog comments powered by Disqus