City Should Change Police Pursuit Policy
940 pursuits in one year? Police should return to using effective GPS technology tracking program.
On Friday, May 17th, Urban Milwaukee published an article highlighting a stolen vehicle police pursuit on North 45th and West Center Street. The fleeing vehicle ultimately rear-ended a taxi cab and crashed. Several bystanders were injured, but luckily they survived the ordeal.
In 2018, after the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (MFPC) mandate that the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) weaken its nationally recognized pursuit policy, pursuits and these stories have become an everyday occurrence. In that one year, police pursuits rose from 369 to 940. Really; 940 police chases.
The article mentioned that, “the City-County Carjacking and Reckless Driving Task Force is set to meet for the first time on Friday, May 17th at City Hall. Among the topics likely to be discussed during that meeting and the Fire and Police Commission meeting were whether there are new police pursuit technologies that could help improve safety.”
Really? This is ironic because in 2018 MPD ended a pursuit reduction technology program. MPD and MFPC appear to be ignoring their previously successful use of GPS tracking technology. MPD ceased in this program 2018 and canceled already-approved additional GPS units.
It is simply a fact that continuing and expanding this program would have saved innocent lives and reduced bystander and officer injuries. These GPS unit purchases are public record and Urban Milwaukee covered this as well. Has anyone from MPD or the MFPC explained why? And now they are “looking for technologies that could help improve safety?”
Under (former Milwaukee PD Chief) Flynn the agency adopted new technology developed by a private company called StarChase, whereby police shoot at GPS “bullet” about the size of a soup can that can stick to a fleeing car.
A 2014 MPD report found it is effective in 55 percent of cases, meaning it sticks to a car and an arrest is later made. That compares to MPD’s horrible apprehension rate of 38 percent for 2018’s 940 chases.
“During the year 2016 MPD deployed this technology 156 times, successfully attaching it to fleeing vehicles 112 times,” a past FPC report noted.
The approach enables police to avoid high-speed chases that often are aggressive adrenaline-fueled contests between officers and a suspect that lose track of innocent bystanders in a dense urban setting.
Whereas the StarChase devices “give officers time to [let the adrenaline high pass], so by the time the pursuit is over, they can think more clearly and make better tactical decisions,” as MPD Inspector Terrence Gordon told Governing magazine in 2016. Yet since Chief Flynn retired, there has been no discussion of this technology.
So I ask, why are MFPC and MPD leadership ignoring their own past success with this technology? And of greater importance, why are these same officials allowing multiple dangerous pursuits every single day?
Of course technology alone is not a panacea. An intelligent and measured pursuit policy must balance enforcement with the risk to innocent citizens and officers. But that is certainly not occurring under current MPD policies, because tragically in 2018 one young officer was killed, twenty officers were injured, and numerous bystanders were killed and injured. And the carnage is continuing unabated into 2019.
Milwaukee has already exceeded its $5 million reserve for police settlements and now must borrow to settle lawsuits. This is after not properly considering or, more likely, ignoring available risk mitigation strategies (unless, of course, one counts the billboard campaign, which was a colossal waste of money).
No one pursuit-related solution will solve Milwaukee’s crime problems. Managing pursuits in the 21st century requires a mix of appropriate policies, extensive officer training and effective use of all available tools.
The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission must explain to taxpayers why they and MPD ceased supporting a pursuit reduction program that was working. And as MFPC and MPD reflect upon their mind-boggling 940 pursuits, reconsider the fact that only effective technology combined with smarter pursuit driving policies will help tip MPD’s abysmal pursuit statistics back in the direction of saving lives and reducing injuries and property damage.
It’s clear that Milwaukee’s current pursuit policies and actions are costing too many lives and emptying city coffers.
Jonathan Farris is Chief Advocate for Pursuit For Change. Jon’s son Paul was an innocent bystander killed in a horrific police pursuit crash outside of Boston in May 2007.
- MPD investigates a fatal crash - Milwaukee Police Department - Jun 2nd, 2020
- Op Ed: City Should Change Police Pursuit Policy - Jonathan Farris - May 27th, 2019
- In Defense of MPD’s Pursuit Policy - Ald. Bob Donovan - Apr 25th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: Are Police Pursuits Out of Control? - Bruce Murphy - Apr 25th, 2019
- City Officials Promote Police Pursuit Policy - Ximena Conde - Jun 26th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: Should Cops Do More High Speed Chases? - Bruce Murphy - May 26th, 2017
- Kansas City, KS reverses pursuit policy to address “skyrocketing crime - Ald. Bob Donovan - May 15th, 2017
- Fire and Police Commission Releases Report on Police Vehicle Pursuits - City of Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission - May 10th, 2017
- Thirteen Council members demand action from MPD, FPC - Ald. Bob Donovan - Apr 20th, 2017
- James Methu’s Statement on Public Safety in Milwaukee - James Methu - Jan 25th, 2016
Read more about Pursuit Policy here