Vargas: On Thanksgiving Day, two people died because they made the bad decision to flee from the cops

By Joe Vargas

On Thanksgiving Day, two men died because they made the very bad decision to try to outrun the police. The pursuit originated in Villa Park in response to a burglary call. Deputies pursued their vehicle to Anaheim. During the pursuit, a pillowcase full of allegedly stolen property was tossed out the window.

According to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, deputies pursued the suspects for 4 minutes. At one point, the vehicle crossed over the center median on Imperial Highway and crashed into an SUV.

The driver and one passenger were killed. A second passenger was severely injured, and the uninvolved driver of the SUV — a woman — sustained minor injuries, police stated.

Also on Thanksgiving Day, a pursuit in Los Angeles County was broadcast live. The driver of a stolen car was driving at a high rate of speed while both police and news helicopters were flying overhead, watching their every move.

The pursuit ended with a spectacular collision. The occupants of the vehicle fled, but were later taken taken into custody. No injuries were reported.

Police pursuits do start to feel like an everyday occurrence.

Some time back, officials increased the penalties in order to deal with the issue. Evading a police officer with wanton and willful disregard for safety of persons or property is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.

Of course, that changes if anyone is killed during the pursuit. In those cases, the penalty becomes a potential murder charge.

In my opinion, the consequences don’t seem to be a deterrence.

You see, the knuckleheads who run from the police are not really future thinkers. For many, their lives are wrought with examples of having made one bad decision after another.

Running from the police is just another example of bad decision making. They never think for a second about the danger in which they are putting themselves, the officers, and the public. They don’t ponder the possible prison time or consequences.

Over the years, police agencies have modified policies to take into account the danger to public safety when deciding to end pursuits.

The use of spike strips and the PIT maneuver have provided additional tools to end pursuits, but are not without risks.

On Thanksgiving Day, Oakland County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Overall in Michigan was killed while attempting to deploy spike strips during a pursuit. According to the Oakland County Sheriff’s office, the suspect intentionally veered his vehicle into the deputy. Murder charges are pending.

Deputy Eric Overall was killed on Thanksgiving Day while deploying a spike strip during a police pursuit.

In a report published by the California Highway Patrol8,554 police pursuits occurred in California in 2016. Twenty-five percent of those pursuits ended in collisions. Not all were injury-related collisions. Sixty-three percent of the reported collisions resulted in property damage only.

According to the California Highway Patrol report, 24 people died last year during police pursuits. Two were uninvolved third parties and the rest were either drivers or passengers in the pursued vehicles.

Before you go on imagining police recklessly pursuing people through city streets, the report also reflects that more than 75 percent of all reported pursuits were less than 5 minutes long and nearly 90 percent were under 10 minutes.

In response, police departments are always improving training and policies to best deal with pursuits. That is evident in the data showing that in 1,638 instances in 2016, law enforcement agencies terminated pursuits rather than continue to chase suspects.

Despite improvement in police practices, I really don’t have an answer to how to deal with the people who make the bad decision to flee in their cars. How do you fix a lifetime of bad decision making?

If jail doesn’t help, maybe public flogging is the answer. But I really don’t think that’s going to be making a comeback anytime soon.

Joe is a retired captain. He can be reached at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com