Los Angeles police endanger the public with high-speed chases, grand jury says

This is the city - Los Angeles, California - that is world-renowned for its Hollywood sign, its movie stars, and its police agencies' daily high-speed chases of criminal suspects through its streets and highways. But a grand jury has concluded that those pursuits are "causing unnecessary bystander injuries and deaths" - and that something has to change.

The Los Angeles Times performed a data analysis in 2015 that concluded 1 in 10 police chases ended in civilian injuries - 334 innocent bystanders injured in 2006-2014. The grand jury then took up the issue, looked at data from a 12-month period and likewise concluded that 17 percent of pursuits in Los Angeles County ended in a crash that could have caused an injury or death. In that period, three fleeing suspects were killed in crashes, and 45 people were injured, including suspects, their passengers - and law enforcement officers.

Two-thirds of those 421 chases ended in arrest.

Meanwhile, in pursuits initiated by the LAPD alone, nearly 80 bystanders were injured in 2015 - a spike of more than double the annual injuries for a decade previous.

"Is this the best balance that can be realized between law enforcement goals and the risk of unintended consequences?" the grand jury report asked.

The report also cited another report with some stunning conclusions: A national study of 8,000 police chases, conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, found that 91 percent of those chases begin as a response to nonviolent crimes. In fact, 42 percent were the result of a traffic infraction.

LAPD is known for a far more permissive chase policy than other big departments in California. For example, chasing stolen cars is common. The grand jury cited the death of Jack Phoenix, a 15-year-old boy who was decapitated in 2015 when struck by a stolen car fleeing the LAPD.

Even more astonishing, the LAPD, more than any other agency in the state, regularly chases reckless drivers or those suspected of DUI - as if inciting those people to drive faster makes any sense.

So what's to be done? The grand jury said both the LAPD and Sheriff's Department need far better training - calling the county's driving facility "substandard." And it called for serious reform of policies allowing officers to pursue suspects in nonviolent crimes - chases that can endanger or kill people like young Jack Phoenix.

LAPD says it has been working on revised policies since 2015 - but they have to be negotiated with the police union.

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