In recent years, there's been an increasing debate in law enforcement over the safety of police pursuits and whether chasing down suspects is really worth the danger to officers and civilians. Cases like this tragic pursuit in Houston in 2009 are why.
TV station KHOU reports that the Houston City Council is set this week to vote on a $5 million settlement package for a lawsuit filed by the families of two men who suffered debilitating injuries as result of a crash during a police pursuit in 2009.
The two victims, men aged 19 and 21, were not involved in the chase. But the woman being chased by police crashed into them after officers blocked traffic to lay down spike strips in an attempt to try and stop her.
Somewhat hilariously, the chase began after a woman arrested by a Harris County constable somehow managed to steal his police car. From KHOU's report:
One of the officers pulled his car sideways to block two lanes of traffic, trying to create a safe space from which another officer could throw a spike strip. That created a traffic jam, stopping innocent drivers caught in the path of the chase.
A video camera mounted on one of the deputies' vehicles captured images of the fleeing car speeding toward the traffic jam, then slamming into the rear of an 18-wheeler and the back of the car carrying the two crash victims.
The two men suffered severe brain injuries in the crash, and both will require medical treatment for the rest of their lives. Initially their attorneys asked for $30 million.
This settlement is clearly less than that, but it's quite a bit of money for the city (or more specifically, their insurance fund) to pay out. And it prompts the question of whether it's better for officers to pursue fleeing suspects into traffic or to simply try and arrest them later. After all, police put their safety on the line for these chases too, along with any civilians who might have the misfortune of getting involved.