Melanie Balog column: Police chases rarely worth the risk

Another day, another high-speed police chase in the Lowcountry.

OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration. Tuesday's chase was only the second one this month.

And unlike the chase two weeks ago, a suspect was apprehended.

The fact that he wasn't the guy the authorities thought he was seemed to be of little concern. He still was charged with a crime. After all, he fled.

Not sure that makes all the people who were on Highway 61 in the middle of Tuesday afternoon traffic feel any better. Their tweets and Facebook comments included disappointment that he wasn't the guy police were looking for, relief that nobody was injured, and complaints about wasted taxpayer money.

There is no question that some police chases are necessary for public safety.

But when the chase moves from an immediate threat to public safety to a Smokey and the Bandit style free-for-all, it might be time to step on the brakes.

Weighing the risks

The January 2012 police chase involving suspect Timothy McManus, whose license had been suspended, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon and more than a dozen sheriff's office deputies violated nine policies or guidelines, according to a review by the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

The department cited the number of cars involved, the traffic level and construction zones in the chase path, and more.

And most of these don't really sound like unreasonable policies: Use marked cars when they are available. Use a siren when you're tearing down the road at 133 mph. That will make it easier for other drivers to get out of the way.

AAA Carolinas officials say drivers always should pull over to the right or slow down in the presence of an emergency vehicle.

This is why it's so important to keep your eyes on the road and not on your smartphone.

“Certainly, in the case of a police chase, if you see a driver coming up behind you who is speeding or driving erratically, you should get out of the way. Don't engage the driver or try to slow it down,” said Angela Daley, AAA Carolinas public relations manager.

Drivers here should probably keep those tips handy.

Public safety

The most striking thing from the Department of Public Safety review was that a chase should end when risks from the chase are greater than failing to catch the suspect.

The state criminal justice academy does its part by teaching precision-driving techniques, said academy spokeswoman Florence McCants. But it's the individual agencies that set policies, not the state. That's because there are so many contributing factors — weather, time of day, whether the person can be identified later, and so on.

What's most concerning is that the sheriff doesn't seem interested in doing anything differently in the future.

The majority of drivers — the law-abiding ones — would probably feel safer if the sheriff's office was a little less aggressive.



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

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