High-speed stakes: A look at high-speed pursuits by Alaska law enforcement
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A report published this week by the U.S. Department of Justice says police pursuits should only happen if an officer is aware a violent crime has been committed or when a person poses a threat of violence.
Anchorage police say that’s one guideline it already follows, along with stopping the pursuit as quickly as possible and taking into consideration the conditions and situation.
“Fourth Avenue doesn’t seem to be like the best place to get into a pursuit, but sometimes at 3 o’clock in the morning, maybe Tuesday, it’s a different story,” Deputy Chief Sean Case of the Anchorage Police Department said.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis, pursuits that turned deadly increased 41% from 2001 to 2021. During that time period, 8,203 people died across the country. Of those killed nationally, about 36% were innocent bystanders.
The federal government also released state-by-state vehicle crashes involving police in pursuit by state, year and fatality type.
Alaska has some of the lowest numbers in the country, according to information obtained through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This information was reported to the federal government.
The highest number of deaths reported in Alaska was four in 2001. There were zero, according to the report, in 2021.
The Anchorage Police Department reports 99 high-speed pursuits between 2020 and the end of 2022. 47% were discontinued for public safety reasons. The Department also reports 78% of those pursuits involved individuals who were were wanted for “violent felonies or posed an immediate threat to the public,” according to an email from a department spokeswoman.
Alaska State Troopers say this year there were about 70 pursuits across the state, which is about the same number as last year.
Troopers don’t limit pursuits to violent crimes.
“Injuries to other people so I mean that would be one of the main reasons that we would pursue somebody,” Lt. Kid Chan with the Alaska State Troopers said. “There are other reasons [besides violence], like, for example, we do get a lot of REDDI (Report Every Dangerous Driver Immediately) vehicles called in.”
According to the report, more than 90% of pursuits are initiated because of traffic violations.
APD was asked to provide the number of pursuits last year, but as of Tuesday afternoon, the request had not been answered.
But, still, pursuits aren’t out of the question.
“I bet you we had one in the last week,” Case said.
While not downplaying the seriousness of a chase, Case and Chan both say police pursuits are sometimes “fun” or “exciting,” but that law enforcement must weigh the responsibility to provide justice versus public safety.
“There is a lot of responsibility,” Chan said, “because you really have to think about everybody else before yourself.”
Case says APD has always had clear policies regarding pursuits, which are often updated.
“Those pursuits may be fun to get into,” Case said, “there’s also a lot of wreckage that happens when you get involved in those.”
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