LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles police chases injured more bystanders in 2015 than in any other year in a decade, renewing calls for the Police Department to reform its pursuit policy, according to a report published Thursday.
The Los Angeles Times reviewed data showing 78 people were hurt during LAPD chases they had nothing to do with last year. That eclipses the previous highest tally of 61 in 2005.
LAPD chases in 2015 injured bystanders at four times the rate of police pursuits in the rest of the state, the newspaper reported.
The number of injured bystanders, which includes pedestrians as well as drivers and passengers in cars that were not involved in the pursuit, was the highest in Los Angeles since at least 2002, the earliest year for which the California Highway Patrol has available data.
In most cases, fleeing suspects whose vehicle collides with pedestrians or other motorists caused the injuries. But some law enforcement experts blamed the high rate of injuries on the LAPD’s pursuit policy.
The department allows officers to give chase for a wide array of crimes, including relatively minor offenses such as car theft, reckless driving or driving while intoxicated. Fleeing motorists who are impaired are more likely to cause a crash while speeding or driving erratically as they try to escape, critics said.
“Every one of these, you’re playing with fire,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer and prosecutor who now teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
LAPD officials argue it is unfair to compare bystander injuries to those in other cities, because Los Angeles’ system of freeways and thoroughfares allow fleeing vehicles to go faster and make wild turns, increasing the likelihood of injuries.
Last year’s rise in injuries, they said, coincided with an increase in pursuits across the city and state. The LAPD was involved in 527 chases last year, compared with 345 in 2014. Investigators with the LAPD and CHP could not give the Times a specific reason for the increase in pursuits in California.
“The instances, the people willing to flee and choosing to flee, is what’s on the rise here,” said Lt. David Ferry.
Most injuries to bystanders, LAPD officials said, were relatively minor. And the first five months of this year saw a 45 percent decline compared with the same period in 2015, according to the most recent data provided by the LAPD.