Weighing the Risks of Pursuit

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When Carol Swanner fled from police officers and deputies Wednesday morning, she led them on a chase that lasted almost an hour. It ended when she almost hit a couple of police officers, and one of WTOK's photographers.

Several cars were almost hit in the process, including a school bus with children on it, on a two-lane county road.

Local officials have been reviewing the tape from the chase for the last couple of days.

Sheriff Billy Sollie says his deputies and the other law enforcement officers involved in Wednesday's chase responded appropriately in pursuit of a suspect.

At least ten law enforcement officials from several different agencies responded to the call. Sheriff Sollie says training behind the wheel is part of the education process for all of his deputies and the state requires annual driving recertification.
But when it comes to the chase, it’s ultimately the suspect who decides how crazy the situation becomes.

"The one condition that law enforcement can't control is the driver of the vehicle being pursued. Law enforcement can back off," said Sollie. "They can maintain a safe distance behind the vehicle, but ultimately the driver of that motor vehicle is the one that makes the determination whether to endanger the life of the motoring public."

Sollie said the policies for high speed pursuit are constantly changing. Deputies have at least three opportunities per year to improve their pursuit training. He says it's a continuing process.

Sheriff Sollie says law enforcement officers involved in a pursuit stay in close radio contact, and if the situation becomes dangerous to the general public, law enforcement won't hesitate to call off the chase.

The FBI estimates some 375 people are killed in high speed police pursuits every year. About 40 percent of those, or 150, are innocent parties to the chase, and about five police officers per year are killed in such chases.