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
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