By the St. Louis Post Dispatch Editorial Board
Posted on May 11, 2017
A 9-year-old boy died Friday from injuries in a high-speed police chase that ended when the fleeing vehicle crashed into his family’s car near St. Louis Lambert International Airport. The mother of one of three men killed in a police chase in 2014 filed a federal lawsuit last week accusing officers and troopers with the Missouri Highway Patrol and city of Pevely of conducting a reckless chase. These are two examples among many that highlight the need for a regionwide pursuit policy that emphasizes restricting such chases.
Clear minds rarely prevail when vehicles are racing down highways at high speeds with motorists and pedestrians scrambling to get out of the way. Officers and the public are put at risk by chases that end too often with injured bystanders or passengers.
There are alternatives. Police sometimes throw down spike strips to impede fleeing vehicles, which is a good use of limited technology. They could also use a newer technology that enables them to shoot GPS devices that attach to fleeing vehicles. Helicopter pursuits also remain a viable, lower-risk option.
St. Louis city and county police have limited pursuit rules and do not chase traffic violators, but some neighboring jurisdictions do. In the situation involving the child who died Friday, a Normandy officer was chasing a stolen SUV whose driver had committed a moving violation on Interstate 70.
A 16-year-old was driving the SUV with two 15-year-old passengers. They sustained minor injuries and were taken into custody. Lambert airport is about 5 miles from Normandy, which means the officer crossed jurisdictions in pursuit.
Normandy police said shortly after the April 25 accident that they were investigating to see whether the chase met department policies. Normandy police said Wednesday they were still investigating. It remains unclear when police discovered that the SUV was stolen or had been carjacked — two factors that might have helped justify a pursuit.
Police owe the public answers when a high-speed chase ends in tragedy. The child’s 5-year-old brother and mother, 30, were also critically injured in the crash, which snarled airport traffic for hours.
The woman who sued over her son’s death in Jefferson County said in the lawsuit that her son called her during the chase and begged for help, saying the driver would not let passengers out. The call came too late and her son died while on the phone with her. The pursuit originated when police stopped the driver for speeding and he fled.
Regional authorities need to set strict parameters for police pursuits of fleeing vehicles and when chases are permissible outside their jurisdictions. Nobody wants teens joyriding in stolen vehicles or armed criminals circulating on the roads, but the pursuit must be worth the risk and danger. Otherwise, wait to catch them another time.