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The high-speed chase

Aug 14, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

No one likes it or wishes for it, but sometimes there is no alternative

Riverton and its vicinity have witnessed two high-speed pursuits of private vehicles by law enforcement officers in just the past week.

Each time such a chase occurs, public discussion is renewed about whether it is a good idea for police cars to hightail it after a fleeing suspect's vehicle over hill and dale, through city streets, and along public highways.

There can be no question that such occasions are dangerous, and no one is arguing otherwise. It is not uncommon for high-speed chases to end with car wrecks. Such was the case Monday when the pickup truck whose driver first tried to elude police in Thermopolis was pursued all the way to west Riverton before wrecking at, of all places, a gravestone business.

The product of that business will not be needed as a result of this particular accident, but no one would have been surprised if it had.

Although police pursuits at high speeds often draw criticism, it is fair to ask this: What is the alternative?

This is a topic that has been studied widely and deeply through the years, and there are protocols in place intended to regulate when, where, and how a police pursuit is carried out.

It is easy for a bystander to say simply that high-speed chases should not be done, that the suspect should be allowed to drive on and be intercepted at a later point.

But our law enforcement officers are not bystanders. They are our public protectors, and sometimes a dangerous person must be pursued and captured.

Anyone who read Ranger reporter Katie Roenigk's story on Tuesday about the chase from Thermopolis to Riverton noted the criminal record of the fleeing suspect. According to police records from more than one state, she had a rap sheet of felony and misdemeanor warrants a foot long. Those reports allege that everywhere she went, this woman committed crimes to persons and property. Among the victims were children, subject to physical abuse and exposure to pornography.

Would a better alternative have been to wait for her to pull over for a sandwich or to refill her truck's fuel tank and try to apprehend her then? Who can say if or when the right circumstances for doing that would have presented themselves, or if law enforcement could be notified in time to apprehend her, or whether she could have been located at all. This, remember, was a woman who had evaded law-enforcement for a long time before Monday.

If the alternative is to let a wanted criminal go free, it is understandable that alert law enforcement would try to make the arrest when the occasion presented itself. That is what happened Monday.

Officers who drive law-enforcement vehicles have taken special driver training, including high-speed driving and maneuvering drills. They drive well-marked vehicles, usually with flashing lights and sirens.

No officer wants to chase a suspect in a car. Police take measures whenever possible to avoid the chase, to reduce the duration of the chase by trying to disable the fleeing vehicle, or to direct it away from more dangerous locations.

Civilian drivers presumably have some driver training as well and are supposed to be alert for lights and sirens of emergency vehicles on the street so they can pull over and allow them to pass.

Sometimes, however, all the planning and training can't accommodate the particular circumstances of a criminal event. It is a fact of modern life that law enforcement officers from time to time will decide that they have no better choice than to pursue the fleeing suspect.

Until a better method of apprehending a motorized criminal suspect comes along, we will have to be willing as a society to accept the necessity of the occasional high-speed chase.

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MAIL SUBSCRIBERS: Tuesday's edition of The Ranger was delivered to the Riverton post office at 3:30 p.m., in time to meet the postal deadline for next-day mail delivery.

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