About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

April 10, 2013

Why You Never Chase

Three years ago I wrote this piece for a local New York City paper. If you replace New Yorker Karen Schmeer with Baltimorean Matthew Hersl, nothing has changed. Karen Schmeer was the friend of a friend. Matthew Hersl was the brother of a guy I worked with and knew from the police academy. I bought my car from his nephew, I think.

From the Sun:
A Maryland state trooper first encountered the driver on southbound Interstate 83 about 2 p.m.
"The black Acura was about a block in front of them. He hesitated at the corner of Saratoga and Holliday. And he takes off as fast as he can at about at least 60 or 70 mph. He tries to negotiate the turn. He didn't make it. He slammed on the brakes and lost control of the car.... The guy had his back turned. He didn't see him coming," [the witness] continued, referring to Hersl. "He hit the guy, knocked him up in the air, hit the tree and turned over."
Here's the part that gets me:
"Police emphasized that the trooper had not been chasing the suspect in the black 2000 Acura TL.

The agency has a number of safety factors it considers before initiating a pursuit. "Let me assure you, there wasn't a pursuit at that point in time," Black said.
Let me assure you that's a lie. [Though the "at that point in time" gives him a bit of wiggle room. I suspect the "chase," if it ever happened, ended right about the time the car accelerated and smashed into and killed Hersl.]

So you're a cop and a car speeds by... what do you do? Departmental rules don't allow you to chase a suspect, but you can "follow" one (obeying all speed limits and traffic regulations, of course). You're not supposed to get involved in car chases, but you do. Why? Because they're fun. (And besides, you don't want the bastard to get away.)

Luckily the time I chased a car nobody got hurt. And it wasn't called off by my sergeant because my suspect drove from the Eastern to the Southeast and I switched to the S.E. District's radio channel. I thought I was very clever.

But what if the car I was "following" killed somebody, perhaps while driving the wrong way down a one-way street? How would I sleep at night?

The reason police are not allowed to chase suspects in the city is because almost inevitably, chases end in a crash. The only real question is what is going to be crashed into. Too often it's somebody like Karen Schmeer or Matthew Hersl, a good person just going about their day.

My sincere condolences to Dan and the entire Hersl family.


Dana King said...

This point came home to me while watching a Scariest Car Chases show several years ago. Even though the chases they showed were not in the city--suburbs and highways, where they had TV news helicopter footage--I saw how they ended, and paid attention to what the original crime was. Most of the time, they were running away with a car they stole, which is not worth endangering half the town. Plus, he's probably going to wreck the car, anyway. it's a lose-lose situation.

I'd think the rule has to be, the chase cannot create a greater danger than the suspect presents himself.

BG said...

Is that why you don't see motorcycles pulled over very often? I ride but at reasonable speeds and I'm constantly surprised to see other people riding at speeds > 100mph yet I never see them get pulled over.

PCM said...

Well, technically yes. But I also suspect it's because the cop figures he'll never catch the SOB.

Gotti Rules said...

Hey Pete,
I would really like to see the dash cam footage from this one. The news has already said there is dash cam footage and this could be easily proven with the video.