The AWOL American media                                                                  Home

At least 100 times a day a police pursuit occurs in the U. S. These pursuits are prime subject matter for newspapers and TV stations. What is surprising is how little many of those who report on these incidents know about the subject.

For instance, it is quite common practice to recount how the pursuit was begun for a simple traffic infraction (overwhelmingly the number one reason for pursuits), relate the often hair-raising details of the chase and then to unconsciously justify what happened by listing the past deeds of the suspect or what was found in the car. No thought or mention of what the catastrophic consequences would have been if an uninvolved citizen had wandered on the path. No thought or mention of the costs to the taxpayers of any property damage that was incurred. No thought or mention of any alternative strategy that may have yielded positive results-with much less risk. No one would disagree with me if I argued that police officers should only use firearms based only on what they reasonably believe to be the circumstances-not on what they find out after the shooting. Yet reporters raise hardly an eyebrow when it comes to pursuits. It is sobering to note that it is overwhelmingly more likely for a suspect, innocent, or police officer to be injured or die from a pursuit than by police use of firearms.

So often a police spokesman is quoted giving a statement such as, “Our hands were tied, we were only doing our job.” Or “If he hadn’t have run this would not have happened.” Again, these comments pass without examination. They imply that the police are helpless. That they have no alternatives. That they must blindly chase whoever runs. It ignores that they may have already identified the suspect and could arrest him later. It ignores that there may have been air assets available. It ignores that tire deflation devices may have been an option. It ignores that the particular situation may just be too risky to conduct a chase.

Many times the suspect of a chase is characterized as driving so recklessly that the police must pursue to put a stop to the situation. Again the logic is accepted without question. It is assumed that the suspect will flee to the ends of the earth, leaving a path of carnage in his wake, regardless of the actions of the police. In reality, suspects almost always “ditch and run” or attempt to blend with traffic when they realize they are no longer being chased-it is, so obviously, in their best interests to do so.

Reporters are often congratulatory when a drunk driver is pursued, caught and taken off the street. Never once considering the fact that 40% of pursuits end in crashes, more than half resulting in injuries, when the suspect is not impaired. To pursue a drunk, you virtually insure that a crash will occur-endangering innocent civilians. A drunk at 40 mph is much less dangerous that a drunk at 80 mph. It is clear, upon examination, that pursuing DUI is insanity.

I often read or hear about the accidents that occur as a result of a pursuit. A poor choice of words at the least and at worst an indifference toward the dangers of the practice.

And now the very worst sin of the media on the reporting of pursuits: When an innocent is killed most reporters are spurred to ask the questions that need to be asked, to do the research that needs to be done, and to devote the time, space, resources and continuing coverage the subject deserves. Unfortunately, if they had done this in the cases they reported previously where no fatality resulted they might have prevented the death of an innocent bystander.

In a very real sense, the media are part of the problem.

James Phillips

NOTE: We get in trouble when we generalize and so I have to add that many, many times I have come across coverage that was thorough and professional and worthy of praise. It is, however, the exception rather that the rule.


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