High-speed pursuits not justified

The tragic death of Kathy Porter, wife of Atlanta Braves trainer Jeff Porter, is but the latest inevitable result of unwise and unnecessary high- speed police chases in Georgia and elsewhere.

This particular tragedy is made even worse because the state police officer involved was not even part of the chase of a motorcyclist on I-20 for some motor vehicle infraction — rather, he was speeding on city streets and ran a red light, possibly without even using his siren according to witnesses, in order to join that pursuit.

When this trooper collided with the Porters’ Ford Expedition, Kathy Porter paid with her life for nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There is absolutely no justification for risking public safety and precious lives to pursue motorists, at high speeds and in a dangerous manner, over some minor traffic infraction.

These tragedies have occurred in many jurisdictions over the years, resulting in either the banning of such chases or their severe limitation to pursuits of serious criminal violators.

A quick Internet check will find a seemingly endless set of news stories, articles and editorials about innocent Georgians who were killed or seriously injured merely for accidentally being in the path of some high-speed pursuit.

It can be argued that even putting the public at risk in this manner violates our constitutional right to equal protection under the law, as well as being a form of unreasonable search and seizure (of our motor vehicles, in such cases) banned by the Bill of Rights.

When I served as hazard mitigation consultant to the New Hampshire Office of Emergency Management, I recommended the banning of all such high-speed pursuits over minor traffic infractions and similar alleged offenses. The burden of proof to justify such chases must be on the police departments involved, via firm and restrictive policies to limit the situations under which they are allowed.

Without the consent of the command structure of each police authority, line officers should be prohibited from high-speed chases. There are other techniques that can be used to stop a fleeing suspect such as barricades and tire-puncture strips. Helicopter surveillance and vehicle identification techniques are among the other available alternatives that put nobody at risk.

Until the Georgia Legislature takes action to ban high-speed police chases except under the most exigent circumstances, each law enforcement department should enact policies to limit their use within its jurisdiction and to require supervisory approval if and when the practice is allowed.

We owe no less to Kathy Porter and all the other innocent victims of this dangerous and abusive practice.

Eugene F. Elander, a retired emergency manager in New Hampshire and Vermont, lives in Dahlonega.