Examining protocol during police chases in Virginia

Published: Apr. 2, 2013 at 3:32 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 12, 2013 at 3:36 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Police chases are risky for both the public and the officers involved. However, pursuits are sometimes the only way to stop a dangerous criminal from causing more harm, or even death.

About 360 people die each year in police chases, across the U.S.. One of the most recent victims is George Van Orden. Friday night, a suspect racing from officers on Midlothian Turnpike smashed into Van Orden's car. The decorated marine didn't survive.

In Virginia, it's up to each police department to create its own policy on how officers should tail criminals on the run. However, a report from the Virginia State Crime Commission gives insight into how officers react when tracking down suspects evading police at high speed.

The report states that a majority of police departments in Virginia have specific criteria for stopping a chase. For example, officers will consider weather, traffic, pedestrian and road conditions. Another factor is whether the suspect is identified, and can possibly be tracked later. A chase may also be stopped if the officer involved loses control emotionally.

Since that study, two changes have been made to Virginia's police pursuit laws, aiming for safer chases.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice also updated its general guidelines last year on pursuits. A decision making diagram shows how officers may evaluate a given situation involving a suspect on the run. However, the guiding rule seems to be to cease a chance minor infractions shouldn't be pursued once the risk to public safety outweighs the benefits of catching the suspect right away.

There's also a slew of new technology to help police stop fleeing suspects, without having to continue a car chase. For example, GPS tracking can make it very difficult for any car to skirt police, no matter where it goes.

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