Special Report: When to Chase

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Most high speed chases involving South Georgia law enforcers end with the suspects in handcuffs. But sometimes chases can go bad. And it's led many law enforcement agencies to review and even change their policies.

September 18th 2012, a wanted sex offender from Florida speeds across the Georgia line into Ft. Gaines. 45 minutes and some 70 miles later the chase comes to a crashing end in Camilla.

The driver - a wanted sex offender from Florida - like other chase suspects didn't want to go to jail.

"We have to weigh are they more of a threat to the community now or can we fall back and catch them later?"

Captain Tom Jackson is over DCP and Heat patrol divisions. He says the old school chase methods once widely used by law enforcement have changed. "If someone didn't stop for you, then you pretty much pursued them until you got them stopped. In the past 10 years that policy has changed extensively due to the liability."

Still, there are scenarios in which a chase must go on. Like last April when a Thomas County man accused of murdering his wife led deputies on a chase into Grady County reaching speeds of 120 mph. A shotgun blast to the tire brought it to an end.

"Most of them end up good. But once in a while there is a mix up and it goes awry" said Tift County Sheriff Gene Scarborough.

Scarborough spent 34 years with the Georgia State Patrol. The agency came under scrutiny last year when trooper ran a red light in Atlanta while joining a chase. His cruiser crashed into an SUV killing the wife of Atlanta Braves trainer Jeff Porter. That trooper lost his job.

It also brought to light the dangers associated with innocent bystanders getting caught up in dangerous pursuits. "We don't go through traffic lights Mach 1. You still have to use due caution," said Scarborough.

A USA Today review of police chases revealed one-third of those killed as a result police chases are innocent bystanders. And it's led some departments to push for stricter policies. Some don't pursue at all.

"You'll generally find the more restrictive ones in more urbanized environments simply because there's just a lot more people there, a lot more crowds, a lot more traffic," said Albany Police Maj. Russell Barnes.

Albany Police have only engaged in 10 chases in the past 3 years. One those claimed one of its own when Officer Terry Lewis Fleming crashed into another patrol car in 2011 while pursuing two armed robbery suspects.

But the numbers of how many people are killed by suspects once chases are called off isn't collected. So officers have to rely on training and technique of how to end it and when to call it off.

"We hope that it's a deterrent but we don't people to get hurt. We do everything very diligently to keep people from getting hurt," said Scarborough.

"We've come to realize is a traffic violation really worth the risk you're going to take and maybe kill someone's family. So you've got to weigh the options of what could be the outcome," said Jackson.

To chase or not to chase. It's a question that must be answered often here in South Georgia. Because one thing is clear, more people are running regardless of the consequences.

Patrol officers are required to undergo training even at the academy level which teaches them liability risks as well the dynamics of the vehicle.

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