BALOG COLUMN: Why chase when it's not worth cost?

The tally from Saturday's high-speed chase in North Charleston is as follows: Damage to two civilian vehicles and one squad car, minor injuries to a police officer and four suspects, and a slightly damaged utility pole.

All because some guy allegedly used counterfeit money to buy an iPad from another guy.

That's right. Police chased a truck a mile and a half along Ashley Phosphate Road at speeds up to 100 mph because someone paid for an iPad with fake money.

OK, technically, they chased him because he sped off when they tried to pull him over. Traffic stops are sort of a hallmark of the North Charleston police force, so you can understand them getting bent out of shape when somebody doesn't comply. And, of course, it is breaking the law to not pull over for the blue lights.

But that $450 is small change compared with the repair costs for the squad car that rear-ended the suspect's truck at the end of the chase, and the damage to the two people's vehicles hit by the suspect's truck during the chase.

Was it worth the collateral damage to get these four criminals off the street for the few hours it took to set their bail and release them on personal recognizance?

Weighing the odds

Yes, police say they recovered $1,144 and 118 oxycodone pills from the suspect's truck.

Yes, the suspects have arrest records, but not the kind of weighty rap sheets that make people run for their lives. They include convictions for giving false information to the police, drug possession, disorderly conduct and possession of alcohol by a minor. Not exactly the stuff of hardened criminals.

The department's policy includes this question: Does the seriousness of the crime warrant high speeds?

Now, counterfeiting and drug dealing are not to be taken lightly. But again, that's not what got this party started.

It was an iPad sale. Not a bank robbery. Not a kidnapping.

Citizen safety

In the past, Police Chief Jon Zumalt has said he wanted to look at the way the department handles pursuits. And maybe this is an opportunity for the new chief to clear some things up. Eddie Driggers, who will replace Zumalt when he retires this month, could start by doing a review of the department's policy and adding some clarity.

The intent of leaving it up to the officer to decide whether to engage in pursuit is noble and trusting. But this case is a prime example of where following Charleston's lead, which requires officers to get permission from a supervisor before starting a high-speed chase, would provide much needed clarity.

Police pursuit often leads to property damage and injuries. Sometimes it leads to death. Luckily nobody was killed Saturday.

Nobody would suggest that police should not pursue criminals at high speed when there's an immediate danger. Someone who really is armed and dangerous, spraying bullets indiscriminately, or driving so erratically as to put other drivers in imminent danger, those are the kinds of folks the police should pursue swiftly and vigorously.

Not the guy who bought the iPad with bogus bills.

POLL:

Did the end justify the means in the weekend high-speed police chase? Go to our home page to vote.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or mbalog@postandcourier.com.

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