Almost every day, law enforcement officers are put into seemingly impossible situations; to catch a criminal and protect the public. But when a suspect is speeding away, every decision is magnified.
After last week’s fatal accident following a pursuit in Evansville, Eyewitness News found departments across the Tri-State have their own checklists, and policies vary across county and state lines.
Last Wednesday night, and EPD officer made the decision to chase Fredrick McFarland. The same decision has been made by 500 other EPD officers since 2009.
Sergeant Jason Cullum says September 2009 was the last time a fatal accident happened during a police pursuit. In the same time, Cullum says there have been 130 fatal car accidents in Vanderburgh County.
Law enforcement walks a fine line with a delicate balance to chase or not. When to push harder, and when to back off.
“Our policies allow for a pursuit if the person flees,” says Cullum.
Police must play by the rules, though. “Where a suspect will run stop signs and drive at a high rate of speed and not look before they enter an intersection, our officers are required to ensure the safety of everybody else,” Cullum adds.
Daviess County Sheriff’s deputies consider an extensive list of factors, like time of day, weather, speed, and amount of traffic. Similar guidelines are in place for Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s deputies and many other departments in the area.
VCSO pursuit policy allows deputies to start a chase even on a possible misdemeanor stop. Compare that to Owensboro Police, where Officer Andrew Bell says their department won’t chase anyone stopped for a minor traffic violation.
Between all major law enforcement offices in the Tri-State, they have a policy where a supervisor monitoring, or the lead car, can end a chase at any time.
Evansville Police has the same policy, but any officer, even those not directly involved can call off a chase if they learn about something that may put someone at risk.
“To say whether somebody thought about terminating it, I cannot speak for anybody else, but the pursuit was monitored by an on-duty supervisor,” Cullum says of last week’s chase.
Illinois State Police operate with restricted speed rules, but it’s different with smaller departments, like Wabash County, where Sheriff J. Derek Morgan says they’ll do what they can to stop someone from getting away.
Henderson Police spokesperson Officer, Jennifer Richmond refused to share anything, asking for a formal records request.
Henderson County Sheriff, Ed Brady didn’t want to elaborate. He says even with the best conditions, pursuits are scary.
There isn’t an obvious response for every police chase. Different departments handle a chase in their own way, and it could change based on many conditions every day.
(This story was originally published December 4, 2017)