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They are the ultimate reality program, life and death, live and in living color. The police pursuit—from COPS to The Scariest Police Chases to live broadcasts—a heart thumping, adrenaline pumping high-stakes game of cat and mouse where the loser, or innocents, may pay the supreme price. In many American cities beepers sound to warn of a pursuit in progress. The voyeuristic thrill of the chase is addictive and America cannot get enough.

What is ignored by the public, as well as the breathless reporters hanging from the doors of helicopters or ex-cop narrators spouting endless streams of law and order cliches is that the drama being played out before them is deadly serious. Hundreds of people die, thousands of people are injured and millions, upon millions, of dollars worth of property damage occur, and liability insurance rates soar for police departments.

Not only are police pursuits controversial entertainment they are a hot topic in the law enforcement community, among insurance underwriters, in municipal governments and state legislatures and are of more than passing interest to most news organizations.

News in our times has evolved into a "short attention span" endeavor. Sadly it is dominated by television and the sound bite. Such may always be the practice of television-for them time is truly money.

The great advantage of print over any other news medium is the ability to examine a story and related issues in depth. There is no time limit. The ability to hold your audience is limited only by the reporter's talent. Why have many newspapers thrown this advantage out the window? Lack of talented reporters? Avoidance of controversy? Lowest common denominator? Whatever the reason, the public is not being served well. Many newspapers have abrogated their traditional, and constitutionally protected, role as part of the balance of power. The fourth estate, in many newspaper markets, is becoming nothing more than an advertising medium, dominated by multimedia conglomerates, committed to becoming evermore "snappy" and "flashy." Sound bites in print, if you will. Few reporters dig, seek, or offer more than superficial knowledge about the subjects they write about, or are prevented from doing so by their editors.

Part of what I do in my campaign for safer and smarter pursuits is to monitor local news for pursuit related stories on a nationwide basis. Daily I come across pursuit incidents that appear to be needless or reckless, or where senseless fatalities occur and I email the reporters and their editors encouraging them dig deeper into the story. With few exceptions no follow-up is done. The presses roll and the carnage continues…

Jim Phillips 10/10/03

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