Long before America was enthralled by the slow-speed chase of O.J. Simpson across Los Angeles County in 1994, high-speed chases had already become a staple of network television—worth featuring on newscasts and breaking into regular programming.
Los Angeles is a perennial leader in high-speed chases; experience which one would hope translates into safer pursuits for all involved. That is not the case.
The Los Angeles Timescrunched numbers from 2006 to 2014 and found that innocent bystanders were injured twice as often in LAPD pursuits than the state average. One out of every 10 chases bagged an unfortunate soul in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those chases also resulted in the bystander's death more often than in any other locales.
Experts told the Times that part of the problem was that LAPD, unlike most venues, chases folks who have committed relatively minor offenses. One of those minor offenses is drunk driving, which adds an additional layer of danger to an activity already fraught with peril.
Lawmakers took a stab at reducing the mayhem accompanying police chases in 2005 when they passed legislation stiffening the penalties for fleeing drivers, amping up training for officers and requiring police departments to report chases to the state. It worked, but just for awhile.
Bystander injuries dropped from 376 statewide in 2005 to 172 in 2010 before heading back up to 260 in 2014. LAPD followed the same general pattern, but experienced a drop from 46 in 2013 to 29 last year.
The department averaged an injured bystander in 10.25 out of every 100 chases during the surveyed period of time. The state average was 3.79. Anaheim recorded 9.66, San Francisco 6.89, Oakland 5.40, San Diego 3.25, Long Beach 2.93, Riverside 1.95 and San Jose 1.02. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) averaged 3.57.
The sacrifice bystanders make, although involuntary, is perhaps not without its reward for others. LAPD says that it catches 82% of the people it chases, compared to the statewide average of 68%.
An NHSTA report found that nearly one-third of all deaths in high-speed chases between 1982 and 2004 were bystanders. Most of the dead bystanders (87.1%) were drivers, 8.5% were pedestrians, 4% were motorcyclists and 0.4% were bicyclists.
Just 1% of the dead were officers who initiated the chases.