High-Speed Stakes: New report urges police to reduce high-speed chases

People expect law enforcement to track down suspects accused of crimes, but how Georgia troopers do it is under scrutiny.
Federal report urges law enforcement to reduce high-speed chases. Reporter Andy Pierrotti and Photojournalist Luke Carter.
Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 3:52 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ATLANTA, Ga. (InvestigateTV) - A new report released by the federal government strongly urges law enforcement agencies to enact policies to reduce high-speed chases in their communities.

The centerpiece of the report’s recommendations, published this week by U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), suggests pursuits should only take place when an officer is aware a violent crime has been committed or when the suspect poses an imminent threat to commit another violent crime, not the danger created from the suspect’s driving as they flee from police.

While previous studies have made similar recommendations, what sets this report apart is the broad consensus developed with input from dozens of pursuit policies and guidance from police leaders in local, sheriffs’, state, and tribal agencies.

“It’s not that we’re saying don’t ever pursue,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which helped develop the report. “We’re saying, if you’re going to pursue, make sure that it is for the right reasons.

“The real important question in all of this is, is it worth it?” Wexler said. “Is it worth endangering that person who you are pursuing, the police officer who is pursing them and that third party?”

Read the full DOJ report here.

The call for action comes as the nation’s number of deadly police pursuits are on the rise.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Center for Statistics and Analysis, pursuits that turned deadly increased 41% from 2001 to 2021. During that time period, 8,203 people died. Of those killed nationally, about 36% were innocent bystanders.

According to annual reports produced by the Georgia Department of Public Safety, the number of pursuits has increased over past five years at the agency. That includes at least 1,673 pursuits last year alone.

One of those deaths includes 12-year-old Leden Boykins.

According to the dash camera video of the 2021 incident, the pursuit started when Charlie Moore pulled over on a Paulding County, Georgia, rural road. Moore’s teenage son was in the vehicle’s passenger seat, while Boykins, a friend, was in a backseat.

Moore said he pulled over because a highway patrolman was following close behind for long period of time. The trooper’s patrol vehicle did not have lights and sirens on before the stop.

Trooper David Peterson asked for his driver’s license. Moore asked him what crime he committed that would warrant needing to provide identification. When Peterson did not initially provide answer, Moore refused to hand over his license.

A few minutes later, two county deputies arrived at the scene. After the deputies broke Moore’s driver’s side window, he fled the scene. Peterson and the deputies chased after him.

According to the incident report and the dash camera video, Peterson’s speed topped 95 miles per hour. He passed the two deputy patrol cars on a narrow two-lane road at night, eventually reaching Moore’s vehicle and knocking him off the road using a maneuver known as precision immobilization technique (PIT).

The maneuver, according to the DOJ, forces a fleeing vehicle to abruptly turn 180 degrees, causing the vehicle to stall and stop.

Moore and his son survived the crash, but Boykins did not.

Leden Boykins’ mother, Toni, learned about the crash from a neighbor. “I just hung up the phone and I instantly knew,” she recalled. “I called my husband and I was like, something bad has happened.”

Toni Boykins blames the trooper for her son’s death, for engaging in an unnecessary dangerous pursuit, because Peterson knew Moore was not accused of violent crime before the chase. Peterson claims he didn’t know children were in the vehicle, but dispatch recordings show that deputies were told. “If there are kids in the car, get up here, I’ll pass him and we’ll try to box them in again,” one of the deputies is heard in the recordings.

“A 12-year-old kid is dead because the decisions you made to do a pit maneuver on a car, a violent PIT maneuver,” Toni Boykins said.

This past May, Moore pleaded guilty to multiple charges including homicide by vehicle. He’s serving a 15-year prison sentence.

According to Trooper Peterson’s personnel file, he did not face any disciplinary action for the pursuit. Attorneys for Leden Boykin’s family filed a federal lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Public Safety in September. That case is still pending.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety declined interview requests to respond to Boykin’s death, the agency’s increase in pursuits or the new DOJ report’s recommendations.

The agency’s current pursuit policy is discretionary and largely allows troopers to determine when to engage in high-speed chases. It does not limit pursuits to violent crimes as the DOJ report recommends.

Wexler said police need discretion, but they also need parameters to determine under what circumstances law enforcement should participate in high-speed chases. “This, in many ways, this is about the sanctity of human life and how you train police officers and how you supervise police officers,” Wexler said.

According to the 160-page report, Congress directed the National Traffic Safety Administration in 2020 to conduct a study “that would lead to the development of accurate reporting and analyses of crashes that involve police pursuits.”

Other recommendations in the report include prohibiting pursuits involving feeling motorcyclists; requiring supervisor approval to continue chases; and only allowing officers with pursuit training to engage in chases.

The only pursuit-related issue the report’s working group did not reach consensus involved PIT maneuvers. They could not agree whether the controversial tactic should be outright prohibited or permitted in certain narrowly defined circumstances.

Wexler said there are no comprehensive research studies available to address the safety and effectiveness of PIT maneuvers. “You’ll see people doing the PIT maneuver at 30 miles an hour, or at 50 miles an hour or at 80 miles an hour, but no one could tell us at what speed is safe,” he said. “For those reasons, we had serious concerns.”

The report also addressed myths associated with strict pursuit policies. For example, it referenced whether or not people only flee from police when they have committed a serious crime.

The answer, according to the report: “Research shows more than 90 percent of pursuits are initiated because of traffic violations. The California Highway Patrol’s report on 2020 police pursuits found the top charges upon apprehension were for stolen vehicle, driving under the influence (DUI), resisting arrest, and suspended or unlicensed driver; combined, these accounted for 37 percent of all apprehensions and 22 percent of all pursuits. The most serious charge upon apprehension, attempted murder, accounted for less than 1 percent of apprehensions and less than 0.5 percent of pursuits.”

Another myth the report discussed includes whether if police disengage from the pursuit, the suspect will keep driving dangerously or commit additional violent crimes, or both. Some research studies identified in the report show that’s not the case.

The report noted: “A 2021 study explored the idea that reducing pursuits will increase criminal activity. Using the Roanoke County and Roanoke City (Virginia) Police Departments, researchers examined the effects of restrictive pursuit policies and found no evidence suggesting that reducing the likelihood of pursuits generates an increase in criminal activity. In fact, under more restrictive pursuit policies, arrest rates declined by approximately two percent. According to the researchers, ‘This suggests the police were freed to attend to more serious matters.’”