I-TEAM: Hundreds of police pursuit crashes reported across the state
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Out-of-control police pursuits have left carnage across Louisiana. While some people have walked away from some of the crashes caused by these chases, others have not been so lucky. In every case though, communities have been left wondering if the chases are worth it.
Crashes related to these chases are happening all across the country, but the WAFB I-TEAM is digging into the numbers for Louisiana. According to data reported to the federal government, there have been 205 deadly police pursuit crashes in Louisiana between 1982 and 2021. There has recently been a rash of police chases in the Baton Rouge area and some of them have even turned deadly. One such crash in West Baton Rouge Parish on New Year’s Eve 2022 claimed the lives of two Brusly teens, Maggie Dunn and Caroline Gill. One in Baton Rouge in early March 2023 killed Victor Duncan and another one around the same time killed two BRPD helicopter pilots, David Poirrier and Scotty Canezaro. Those pilots died when their chopper went down after assisting with a chase.
”I don’t see why they would put people in danger,” said Marcella French.
Marcella French was an innocent driver who came face-to-face with a police pursuit in October 2022. A man running from deputies over drugs in Livingston Parish crossed over into East Baton Rouge and slammed head-on into her car. She believes the chases have to stop.
“Unless you’ve got somebody that’s going to shoot up the town, I don’t understand why you have to continue to chase,” said French. “I mean he may have run the light anyway but he wouldn’t have been going as fast as he was because he was booking it 70 miles an hour.”
State lawmakers have formed a task force to identify a set of guidelines for police departments across the state to follow. Jason Gill, the father of Caroline Gill, spoke at a recent meeting about that West Baton Rouge Parish crash that claimed his daughter’s life. He also touched on the officer, David Cauthron, who is accused of killing her. Gill said he supports law enforcement but wants accountability.
”He did not even tap the brakes before he hit them. He was going 86 miles an hour and didn’t even tap the brakes,” said Gill. “Who holds agencies accountable? Is it the parish that holds them accountable? Is it you guys that holds them accountable or is it state police that holds them accountable? I don’t know who holds them accountable, but it has to be some accountability.”
Randall Dunn, the father of Maggie Dunn, also spoke about that wreck and questioned why multiple people from multiple agencies all made the same choice to chase and no one put a stop to it.
“You had one call come in and that professional made a decision to start a chase and then it got handed off to another jurisdiction. They made a decision to continue that chase and it got handed off to another agency and they made a decision to continue that chase,” said Dunn. “What happened in this whole chain of events that caused these adults to not say wait a minute, is this a smart thing to be doing?”
While that task force continues its work, the Department of Justice has recently released a new federal report outlining their recommendations for law enforcement. Among them, the agency now suggests pursuits should only happen for violent crimes or when there’s a clear threat that the person they are chasing will commit another violent crime.
Chuck Wexler is the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. The group was instrumental in putting the report together. He wants to be clear that their suggestion is not to end all chases but to be smarter when a chase cannot be avoided.
“Police need discretion but they also need some parameters under what circumstance you should pursue,” said Wexler. “It’s not that we’re saying don’t ever pursue. We’re saying, if you’re going to pursue, make sure that it is for the right reasons. The real important question in all of this is: Is it worth it? Is it worth endangering that person who you are pursuing, the police officer who is pursuing them and that third party?”
The task force that is looking into these police pursuits will meet again soon, where they plan to dive into the programs and technology that is available to reduce crashes related to high-speed chases. Their next meeting is set for Friday, December 1, 2023.
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