A 'balancing act': Law enforcement explains split-second decision behind a high-speed chase

A 'balancing act': Law enforcement explains split-second decision behind a high-speed chase
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A 'balancing act': Law enforcement explains split-second decision behind a high-speed chase

MADISON, Wis. - Lt. Kurt Pierce has been in the situation a number of times: a split-second decision to chase a criminal in a car or let them go.

He understands what officers went through on that April day, when two suspects started a high-speed chase on the interstate that ended with them both dead.

“You sympathize with everyone involved,” Pierce said. “When someone loses their life, that person's never coming back. You also sympathize with the officers… you know their intent and they were trying to do the right thing. They were trying to take someone into custody and also preserve property.”

Pierce, of the Dane County Sheriff's Office, said a lot goes into the call.

Officers must consider everything from the threat the person fleeing poses to the community, the experience they have, the population of the town they're going through and even the conditions of the road.

If the crime isn't worth putting the public, the officer and the suspect in danger, they say the chase is off.

“We want to catch people when they commit crimes, but we also have to look at the big picture,” Pierce said. “We have to do that balancing act where we worry about liability, and we want to make sure that everybody is safe.”

Most departments have a policy that helps govern this.

State Patrol told us if the officer has reasonable grounds, they are free to try and stop suspects in a chase.

"However the policy specifies that a pursuit be discontinued when officers determine that the pursuit creates an unreasonable danger of death or great bodily harm to officers, those being pursued or uninvolved persons," said 

Pierce said Dane County also involves multiple people in the call, from the deputy in the chase up to the patrol sergeant and officer in charge. Any of them can call off a chase, too.

Pierce said those layers are important. High-speed pursuits are emotional for the people involved, but in the end, they have to make the call for someone's life.

“It's frustrating when sometimes people get away,” he said. “But you also know that you sometimes, doing the right thing is letting them go and hoping you get them another day.”

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