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The Never-Talked-About Costs of Police Chases

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Each day we read about many police chases. A huge number of those are to pursue stolen vehicles. 

Chasing a stolen car or truck ALWAYS puts innocent bystanders at risk of injury or death. At Pursuit For Change we talk about that issue all the time. And as a result, we continue to push for stricter pursuit policies allowing chases for only violent-felony crimes and not for misdemeanors or property-related felonies.

Of course, nearly every time an innocent bystander is hurt or killed, that jurisdiction (city, county or state) can expect to be sued. Often the settlements, after years of litigation expenses, are in the millions of dollars. This is yet another reason to pursue only violent felons who are posing an immediate threat to the public prior to and throughout the chase.

However, very few in law enforcement and the media discuss the monetary and social implications of non-injury pursuits.

Much more often when law enforcement chases a stolen vehicle, the bad guy is apprehended after crashing that stolen car or truck. Well  at least there are no “injuries” other than those of the thief, right? 

 Perhaps that’s not really the case.

Every police chase that results in a crash costs the innocent citizen. Yet this is hardly ever talked about. Think about this following scenario.

A thief steals Ms. Goodperson’s 2008 Chevrolet Impala one night. The next morning, when Ms. Goodperson heads out to work, she’s appalled to find that her car is gone! She calls the police and reports the theft.

Several hours later an officer spots her stolen vehicle, driving at the speed limit down a local street. The officer attempts to pull the vehicle over, but instead of stopping, the bad guy speeds away. The officer makes a decision to engage in a high-speed chase.

In this case, after a dangerous pursuit lasting ten minutes and speeding through intersection after intersection, the thief loses control of the car and crashes into a telephone pole. Luckily, no innocent bystanders are hurt.

Now, if Ms. Goodperson is lucky enough to have auto insurance (comprehensive coverage specifically), then she can report the theft to her insurance company and get a settlement for that theft. 

In our example, this 2008 Chevrolet Impala has a retail market value in the $5,000 to $6,000 range. Assuming the vehicle is indeed totaled during this police chase, then Ms. Goodperson can (hopefully) just pay her deductible and the insurance company will be out several thousand dollars.

But what if Ms. Goodperson is more like so many fine, hard-working folks across the country. She struggles to make her family’s financial ends meet every month. So she is regularly forced to make difficult decisions where every single dollar is spent. 

A few months back, Ms. Goodperson spoke with her insurance agent and decided to save some money and drop comprehensive insurance coverage on her eight year old car. This, too, is a very common scenario in the insurance world. 

Because Ms. Goodperson no longer has comprehensive insurance coverage, she immediately becomes a different type of innocent citizen when her car is stolen and crashed during a police chase. Now all expenses related to the stolen car must be born by the owner. 

What does that mean? Well, Ms. Goodperson is about to get a really bad deal. 

  • She has no insurance to cover the replacement of or repairs for her car.
  • It is very unlikely that the thief has any financial assets, so even if Ms. Goodperson receives a legal judgment against him, she will never recover a nickel.
  • She will also have to pay for the replacement of any damaged or missing belongings that were in the stolen car (these may be covered by her renters or homeowners insurance). 
  • Because her car was “recovered”, she will now need to pay for towing or transport to her home or to a repair shop. (Here is a real-life case where the owner is being forced pay to transport her stolen vehicle from Oklahoma to Minnesota. goo.gl/FWjeMz)
  • Law enforcement is typically not liable for any damages to a pursued vehicle.
  • Between the time Ms. Goodperson’s car is stolen until she is able to repair or replace it, she still needs to get to and from work. Those expenses must ultimately be paid for by the victim.
    • If she is unable to find alternative transportation, then there is a very real possibility that Ms. Goodperson could even lose her job.
The bottom line is that many stolen car police chases end up in crashes costing the victims an immense amount of time and untold aggravation. Plus, the victim and / or an insurance company, will be out thousands and thousands of dollars. Bad deal.
 
We know there are alternatives to chasing stolen vehicles, such as pursuit reduction technology. That seems like a much smarter investment for a city than having to settle a lawsuit from a pursuit gone bad or for adding truly unnecessary expenses to non-injured vehicle theft victims.
 
There are always losers and never winners for these types of pursuits. 
 
Jonathan Farris is chief advocate for Pursuit For Change and also president of Madison-based InsuranceRescue Services. He can be reached at jon@pursuitforchange.org or jon@insurancerescue.com.
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