MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
High-speed chases - police cars flying down streets after a suspect - those chases kill hundreds of people annually. Better policies and new technologies are among possible solutions. From Kansas City, Bridgit Bowden reports.
BRIDGIT BOWDEN, BYLINE: Police officers have to make complicated split-second decisions every day, and whether or not to chase a fleeing suspect is no exception. And they often have to make this decision while driving a car at very high speeds. Kansas City area police chief Steve Beamer says they don't make it lightly.
CHIEF STEVE BEAMER: We have to continually bounce the need to apprehend that individual who chooses to flee against the safety of the public that may be at risk because of the pursuit.
BOWDEN: The risk is that the pursuit will cause a crash, killing police and innocent bystanders. In the last decade here, there have been at least 700-and-six pursuit crashes that have killed at least 23 people. Hundreds more were injured, including 11 police officers. Police consultant Chuck Drago says nationally, between 300 and 400 people are killed each year because of pursuits.
CHUCK DRAGO: As far as we can tell, it's pretty much been stable for many, many, many years. And the numbers are sometimes difficult to pin down.
BOWDEN: Difficult because the reporting is voluntary. Aaron Ambrose is a former Kansas City area police chief who says most of the time, pursuits just aren't worth it, but there are exceptions.
AARON AMBROSE: Now, if somebody's grabbed a little kid and they're holding them hostage - some guy went into a neighborhood and snatched up a kid and they're driving around, I'd say we follow him until his wheels fall - I mean, you know, you're never going to let that vehicle out of your sight regardless.
BOWDEN: Technology could help cut down on the number of pursuits. Police already use helicopters and may use drones in the future. And then there's StarChase, a system that shoots a GPS tracking dark from the front of a police car onto a fleeing vehicle. Trevor Fischbach is the company's president.
TREVOR FISCHBACH: We've had officers that have tagged vehicles, and they report back that, you know, instead of jumping in their car and flying up to 100 miles an hour, they walk back to their vehicle. They get on the radio with dispatch, and they coordinate the takedown using the GPS. And there's no need for high speeds.
BOWDEN: But StarChase is expensive, costing about 5,000 per car. Police agencies also have policies in place spelling out who officers are allowed to chase and how fast they can drive. But in Kansas City, there are two states, six counties and dozens of municipalities to deal. All have differing policies. Some allow chases for minor traffic violations, and other only allow pursuits of violent felons. Jonathan Farris says there need to be more consistent policies. He's the former chair of the group PursuitSAFETY. Even though he lost his son in a pursuit crash near Boston eight years ago, he thinks banning all pursuits is not realistic.
JONATHAN FARRIS: I think it's a reduction in police pursuits, not an elimination of police pursuits. And that reduction, again, the simplest way to do that is to say the only thing that is important enough to put other citizens in danger is to pursue violent felons only.
BOWDEN: Of course, an officer might not yet know who's running away, and that's why activists like Jonathan Ferris want policy reform that will make police pursuits both more efficient and safer for everyone in their paths. For NPR News, I'm Bridgit Bowden in Kansas City.
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