As the police chief of any city, I can imagine that the job is quite taxing. It requires a great deal of patience, skill, and leadership to ensure that the citizens are kept safe and that the criminals who prey on them get the justice they deserve. Undoubtedly, in some cases, bad calls are made.
The bad guy gets away, an innocent civilian gets injured, or things just don’t go as planned. For the police chief, the key is to keep these to a minimum. It is a balancing act to be sure. And for large metropolises like Atlanta, Georgia, a lot can hang in that balance.
That is why Police Chief Erika Shield’s recent decision to prohibit her officers from pursuing criminals is such a controversial one. Yes, you read that correctly. Atlanta police officers are no longer allowed to give chase to running criminals.
Police Chief Shields announced this on January 3rd in a department-wide email.
She stated, “As we move into 2020, I ask that you commit yourselves to safety; both individually and to others. It is along those lines that I must revisit the department’s current police pursuit “chase” policy.”
Shields continued, saying, “I am acutely aware that an overwhelming number of crimes are committed where a vehicle is involved in some capacity and that some of the most significant arrests we have made as an agency have been a result of zeroing in on a specific vehicle.”
But she goes on to say that there are several issues that she must keep in mind when considering her department’s response to chasing criminals. Those are costs involved in training her staff to pursue safely, the rate of injury/death of her officers and innocent civilians as a result of the chase, and the current judicial system’s failure to hold those arrested during a pursuit accountable.
She said, “In reviewing the department’s current pursuit policy, I must weigh these critical successes against several factors. Namely, the level of pursuit training received by officers who are engaging in the pursuits, the rate of occurrence of injury/death as a result of the pursuits and the likelihood of the judicial system according any level of accountability to the defendants arrested as a result of the pursuit.”
With this in mind, she has, therefore, ordered that “The department has a zero-chase policy and this is effective immediately.”
It is believed that this change is a result of the public’s reaction to a high-speed chase in the city in December that ended in the tragic loss of innocent lives.
WSB-TV reported that Atlanta police were in pursuit of a suspect in an armed carjacking case when the assailant ignored all traffic signals and blew through an intersection. The criminal’s car collided with another vehicle, whose two occupants were both killed.
The public then rose up to criticize the department and ask if such pursuits were necessary, especially when they risk so much damage. Officers involved in the case claimed that the suspect’s use and possession of a firearm made chase a warranted option, but the public was not convinced.
Thus, the policy has now been changed.
But at what cost?
We understand that the department should do everything within its power to reduce the risk of injury/death both to its officers and citizens not involved. But is this the correct answer?
Criminals now know they can’t and won’t be chased. No, this doesn’t give them the right to commit crimes but it indeed allows them to escape any possibility of being charged with those crimes. The instant they get in a vehicle, they are essentially off-limits to law enforcement. They have the keys to the city and they know it.
Atlanta already has a high crime rate. This is likely only to make matters worse. And even the police chief recognizes this. She ends her statement by saying, “Please know that I realize this will not be a popular decision; and more disconcerting to me personally, is that this decision may drive crime up. I get it. But at the end of the day, I want all of you to keep your jobs and to have a strong and positive career.”
Having a boss that cares about you is a great thing, but some would say this is more about saving her own skin than those of her employees. Lord knows, it certainly isn’t saving the community much.