Cowboy Cops and Their Frequently Completely Innocent Human Roadkill

Why does North American society tolerate, to such an extreme extent, the practice by police of high-speed chase, which seems to gnaw at the very concept of civilization? Why is California the leader in this primitive ritual that uses century-old technology as if it were turn-of-the-millenium high tech? In SoCal, of course, this bloody sport is a favored choice of entertainment, regularly aired live from helicopter TV cameras.

Is this sport an improvement over bull-, dog- or cockfighting? If so, shouldn’t it be played between, say, the CA CHP and the TX Rangers, rather than by all sorts of police forces against the North American public, indiscriminately amongst criminal and law-abiding elements thereof? The police and their jurisdictions smugly rely on non-liability laws, such as CA.US’s Vehicle Code 17004 and its subsection 17004.7, and simply charge the fugitive with vehicular manslaughter. Certainly, it is usually clear that the pursuing police, from the beginning of a chase, should be expected to have good control of their driving, while usually it is aware to them that the driver they are chasing is quite unlikely to employ such control. Furthermore, the police usually have no information that their fugitive is any kind of real menace – except while at the wheel of his car at the time police units are roaring up behind him. Often this fugitive is a kid who simply doesn’t want another traffic ticket, or just likes to try to outrun the cops. . .but to the cops, that always seems to fill the bill for a juicy chase.

It’s easy to see why macho types in police forces like it the way it is; it’s difficult, though, to see why the general public wants to simply play their decreasing odds that they won’t be nearby when the next shots of testosterone start flowing.

I ask this after a particularly blatant killing of an Oakland, CA.US resident by the OPD, via a petty drug dealer, on Nov. 3 of this year.


Well NanoByte sometimes it is more than just a kid who is afraid of getting a ticket.
About a year or so ago here in Houston,HPD tried to stop a car and the guy tried to outrun them.
The police did stop him and when they did it was discovered that he had kidnapped,beat and raped a woman and was on his way to kill her and dispose of the body.
I bet she was glad the police gave chase.

t lion

" I Wonder What Happens When I push THIS Button? "

Yeah, for every woman in that situation, five or ten are wiped out by cops chasing some guy just trying to see if his rod can out-maneuver a police car. See my references – particularly the Dateline transcript – and check other relevant material on the Web, some in newspapers’ archives. I’ll post more URLs for these later.

Why do you and others buy such statistically-in-the-minority anecdotes from cops? I assume you only got what you stated here from the words of a cop that were printed in a newspaper. You probably don’t even really know how much of what he said was actually true – an it only refers to an unfulfilled act somehow supposed to occur in the future. But in any case, the stats are by far hopelessly against the probably-only-hypothesized scenario you mention.


If a policeman signals you to pull over, you’re supposed to pull over.
Just for the sake of argument, what if you did peel out at 125 mph and run away the PD?
And you did that because you knew that they would shrug their shoulders and say “Well, we lost another one.”
Do you really want every citizen to believe they have a legal right to floor it?
Do you think you’ve seen carnage so far?
This needs some work.

In my (small) hometown a couple of months ago, a cop wrecked his car. He wasn’t chasing anyone, he was on call to some location–he claimed a car pulled out in front of him, I believe, causing him to swerve and lose control. I’m skeptical of this, myself–he was doing over 100 mph in an area with “maximum safe speed” 25 mph curves. Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt. Slightly, off topic, but a month before that, another cop hit a pedestrian, apparently the cop had been eating behind the wheel, choked, and lost control. No serious injuries this time either, luckily. An accident, apparently, and nothing was done–but I wonder if the same would be true if the driver had not been a cop.

Where I’m living now, I heard about a cop in a chase that collided with a truck (not involved in the chase). I’m not sure, but I think the cop died in that accident, and while it sucks that it happened, of course, it did piss me off that the news mentioned nothing of the condition of the truck driver, as if that somehow wasn’t important.

Anway, back to the OP–I certainly don’t think chases can simply be eliminated, but they are, of course, sometimes more dangerous than the purpose justifies. One thing I recall hearing something about, maybe someone can educate me some more. I heard there’s some device now that can disable a car’s engine from some given distance. I don’t know if it can be aimed, or if it just acts on everything in a given radius. Hell, I’m not even sure it’s not a figment of my imagination. I don’t think this is a perfect solution, though, I can certainly think of other issues a device like this could bring up.

No I was listening to the police two way radios on my ham radio that night.
Here in the Houston area they had to change the chase policy after an inocent famly was killed by fleeing suspect.
If you knew that the police would not give chase would you stop if a police officer flags you over?
Are most deaths in these situation caused by the police or the suspect, who would be speeding anyway?
As I understand it large police departments train there officers for high speed driving, can you say the same for the suspects?

t lion

" I Wonder What Happens When I push THIS Button? "

Disable a car’s tire with a rip strip. I remember seeing in Autoweek a device from South Africa called the auto-harpoon that would send a harpoon from the front of a police car into the rear of another car. I believe it also had a cable to attach the two so the cop could slam on the brakes and bring the other car to a halt. The major problem was on smaller cars you could easily harpoon the driver. I do think there is a device out there that will blow the computer on newer cars but I think the device has to be close to the car at the time making it just as (un)reliable as a rip strip.

I’m thinking maybe rocket launchers, machine guns and lasers…

Now that I think of it why aren’t cops using lasers to crack the windshields making it harder to see ?

Doug Bowe:

So your theory is that, if the cops are not allowed to chase at high speed, many more persons will flee them? I guess that’s a theory rather similar to the one that, if we don’t have the death penalty, with have more murders. There’s no indication anywhere that either of these theories correlate to fact. The transcript of a Dateline program I link to on the page of mine I link to from my OP says (at the time in 1996, at least), that Baltimore did not allow such chases at all. Baltimore, of course, is a high-crime city. Does anyone lurking here have any authentic data on fleeing from police in that city, both before and after 1996?

This is almost 2000. With electronics you can find out just about where almost anything is almost anywhere almost at any time, without creating a bloodbath in order to do it. The money saved from replacing smashed up police cars could easily pay for adaptation of feasible electronic devices to track fugitives and their vehicles for later apprehension under circumstances far less destructive of what should be the populace that is to be protected by the law. But, of course, the use of such devices is far less fun for cowboy cops, most of whom, in younger years, were those who either fled or otherwise drove in extremely reckless manners. And also, of course, none of this will happen as long as we have liability laws protecting indifferent individual police and their governmental jurisdictions. Actually, nothing will improve until the populace quits this attitude that the solution to crime is simply to hire more cops. We ran out of decent cops at least two decades ago. Decent and competent ones don’t just pour out of a spigot on the call of a politician for “50,000 more police”, in order to get elected.


Yes, I saw something, I think in the newspaper or on TV, about some wireless means of disabling a land vehicle moving at high speed, but it required installation of some special equipment in the speeding vehicle, usually at the time of its manufacture. I don’t think that sort of scheme is feasible at all.

Another one is mentioned in only a few words, at the end of the Dateline transcript is link to. It says only:

“Road Patriot, a rocket-powered sled that slides under a car and electronically disables the engine.”

That doesn’t sound very feasible or economical either, though it may eventually well be.


Here in Ireland from 2002 onwards (looking for a link to confirm), ALL new cars must be fitted with security devices that will allow the car to be disabled by satallite. The system has been tested and seems to work. The car is slowed down by remote control as soon as the cops are within sight of the car.

I guess it might cause lots “Big Brother” type reactions in the US, but here we have the highest number of car thefts and road deaths in Europe so I guess people wouldn’t mind a change.

Thanks, NanoByte.

What bothers me about a device such is that is, number one, abuse by the cops. Number two, simply safe driving–if you suddenly lose your engine, it’s quite possible that in itself could cause an accident.

On a similar note, I think some years ago there was an effort to put governors on all cars that would not allow them to go above 65 mph (or whatever the prevalent speed limit was at the time). In fact, I think these devices are on many rentable moving vans–once you hit 65, the gas pedal stiffens, and even if you do depress it more, there’s no real acceleration. Anyway, I personally think that’s a safety issue–there are certainly occasions when merging, avoiding other mergers, or what have you, when the safest thing you can possibly do is to go above the speed limit–and this device does not allow it. A very short-sighted idea, IMO.

Anyway, I’m rambling again. Another story I think worth bringing up is this. Several years ago I heard of a cop on call to some emergency, speeding to the location. A woman (who had the green light) pulled out in front of him, was hit and killed. However, the cop did NOT have his flashing lights or his siren on. I definitely think the cop has some accountability for this–I do know the family sued, but I never heard the outcome.

NanoByte, clearly you have issues here other than simply objecting to the dangers of high speed chases. There is anecdotal evidence to support or oppose any position. But the overall judgement of law enforcement agencies (which set pursuit procedures), government bodies (which oversee the police), and society in general (which elects the government) is that high speed chases are justified in many circumstances. It’s reasonable to assume that someone willing to take off at 150 mph to avoid a minor ticket might be concealing a more serious crime. The police are trained to pursue while minimizing the danger to bystanders as much as possible. And finally, you should remember that the police never initiate these chases, the other driver is always the one who goes to high speed first.

The only So Cal police vehicles that engage in high speed chases anymore are helicopters. As soon as the suspect car starts driving significantly faster than traffic, the black and whites back off and let the chopper direct cops further up the road toward any possible bail out.

Pursuit proceedures have evolved radically over the last ten years and a lot more chases end without injury than was once the case. Macho cops have nothing to do with the actual chases which are usually directed by an office bound supervisor. The police behind the wheel don’t exercise any independent action until the actual arrest phase.

The only disturbing trend is the blood thirsty local TV stations that turn what really isn’t legit news into a public blood sport.

I’m sorry, NB, but I’ve got to agree with David on this one. The only reason most people don’t take off at high speeds is the general knowledge that cop cars can outrun and outmaneuver nearly everything else on the road. Think what a problem drunk driving would become if the police weren’t allowed to chase down offending drivers.

The fact is that a ton of steel and aluminum moving in excess of 50 MPH is inherently dangerous. People that do so in a dangerous manner need to be taken down. It sounds cold, but the handful of people that get killed or injured as a result of police chases is preferrable to the many more that would be hurt if the police were not able to stop them.

Isn’t that enough of a menace to justify stopping him? A kid with enough traffic tickets to be that concerned with getting another one is a danger to other drivers. Get him off the road.

I’m sure that machismo does feature into some (maybe many) policemen’s decisions to chase down drivers. Let’s face it, that’s the kind of people the job attracts. What’s more, without that mentality the law enforcement community would be almost useless. They have a hard and highly dangerous job, and it requires a certain “gung-ho” courage to be willing to put their lives in jeopardy in order to protect the rest of us. It’s a shame that many people want to restrict the police to the point that they can’t do anything.

Hell, if I knew the only thing I had to do to evade arrest is go faster than XXX miles per hour, I think I’d take up a life of crime.

I think most people would be upset to hear from now on, police were no longer going to persue suspects once they got above 75mph (or whatever), and would instead let the suspects flee.

“I guess one person can make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

While I don’t know about harpoons, or robots under the car, I can’t beleive that they couldn’t figure out a way to mark the car with dye or hit it with somwthing that sticks to it so it’s easily recognizable…maybe even a tracker or something…<shrug>…I just don’t think it’s ever wise to have a high speed chase…I don’t care how much “training” they get, unless you drive a care at 100 mph every day, you can’t be 100% in control…

In answer to Cabbage’s statement about the girl who was killed by the speeding officer, it happened in Dallas, TX in 1993. The police officer was found not accountable, despite traveling over 80 mph (on a street, I might add, with a speed limit of 35) with no flashing lights, and running a red light. A civil suit was filed against the DPD and was dismissed. In this case, it seems cops are not held accountable for their actions, even when they break the law.

Marking it or putting a tracker on it might work in some circumstances. If the cops aren’t going fast enough to keep up with you though what’s to stop you from ditching that car and taking another at gunpoint etc.

I was pretty sure I had read about a device that some police departments have which interferes with the fuel injection systems on modern cars. It was my understanding, however, that it isn’t used because:

  1. It also disables other cars in the vicinity, including other police chase vehicles, and of course

  2. The unit is fairly specialized and is rarely in the same place as where the high speed chase is going on.

Personally, I think the whole high-speed chase thing is just a game of one-upmanship. The criminal thinks he can get away if he goes fast, the cop thinks if he chases the guy, he’ll give up. So the criminal speeds up, and more cops join the chase using the same “we’ll scare him into stopping” logic.

Living in SoCal myself, I’ve watched enough chases on TV, and the helicopters do most of the chasing. Besides, if we didn’t have high speed chases, how would the Fox network stay in business?

The problem with marking the car is that it does nothing to mark the driver. The police need to maintain visual contact with the vehicle in order to be sure to get the actual person committing the crime. Getting the right car is not enough.

Since we’re getting all personal here: as touchy-feely liberals go, I can cry with the best of them. But if I was cop trying to pull over someone over, and they took off, I’m certain that I would chase them down to the best of my ability. Someone who runs from a cop is almost certain to be hiding something ( issues of race aside ), and I just don’t buy that most people who run are kids out joyriding who don’t want the ticket.

Nano, do you have nationwide statistics that might help settle this matter? Such as the number of innocents killed versus the number of serious felons apprehended?

Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.