RINCON, Ga. (WSAV) – When is it appropriate for an officer of the law to engage in a police chase? The question came up last month after a Long County Deputy died in a crash while pursuing a suspect.
The concern also popped up earlier that month when two innocent people died during a chase through Liberty County. In both cases, deputies said they followed protocol.
Georgia State Patrol (GSP) troopers pursue hundreds of suspects each year. Sgt. 1st Class John Crews says troopers now go through extensive pursuit training.
There are department-sponsored Emergency Vehicle Operations Courses, classroom training and weeks of hands-on practice at a training center in Forsyth, Georgia.
“If the officer is trained well enough, they’ll know that even though we’re going to pursue the vehicle, we’re still going to stop at a stop sign. We have to get a right of way at a red light. We can’t just go through these things. We still have to drive with due regard,” said Sgt. Crews.
Sgt. Crews says troopers will make the decision on their own if they should take on the risk of pursuing a driver. He is thoroughly versed on GSP protocol, which says a trooper must take into account the nature of the offense, existing traffic conditions and limitations of the patrol car, among other things.
“If I stop someone who is possibly intoxicated…and they flee the traffic stop, there’s a little more need to apprehend the person because they’re a danger to the public,” said Sgt. Crews.
A 2017 pursuit summary report — presented to the Georgia Board of Public Safety by Commissioner Mark W. McDonough –says one in eight pursuits are called off because “circumstances are just too great.”
A majority of pursuits in Georgia happen in DeKalb, Fulton and Chatham Counties.
Of the 854 total GSP pursuits in 2017, the commissioner says more than half — or about 473 — ended in a crash. Sgt. Crews says about half of pursuits at Troop I — which covers the Coastal Empire region — end with the subject eluding police and getting away.
Minutes from the 2017 Department of Public Safety meeting explain how troopers with less than ten years of experience and younger troopers — aged 25-35 years-old — are more likely to engage in a pursuit.
Sgt. Crews says supervisors go over every chase after they happen. He says it helps troopers learn from their mistakes and make sure they are being as safe as they possibly can.
“You’ve got to be able to keep your head on a swivel and know what you’re getting into. Not getting so hyped up that you lose your focus,” he said.
Of GSP pursuits in 2018, a public safety report says just seven were investigated by the department’s internal affairs unit. Sgt. Crews says troopers will get tunnel vision and mistakenly go through stop signs and red lights without stopping.
Sgt. Crews says people who get away will likely continue to break the law. “They’re not stopping because they’ve gotten into that flight or fight mode,” he said.
If you see a chase happening, Sgt. Crews says it is important to get over to the right side of the road.