Police chases in SE Missouri renew debate

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) — Recent police chases in southeast Missouri have spurred renewed debate about whether officers should pursue fleeing suspects.

Two recent traffic stops — one in Cape Girardeau and on near Perryville — turned into potentially dangerous chases, though in both cases, no one was hurt, the Southeast Missourian reported (http://bit.ly/Vt7tGv ).

Police in the region agree that chases are often a necessary evil. But some residents say the risk is simply too great.

Jackson resident John Pfefferkorn largely opposes chases. He had a relative killed in a chase decades ago, when the relative was a teenager. Pfefferkorn says it was a young man who was not a criminal, but a recent driver’s license recipient who was afraid of getting a ticket.

“It’s not always necessary, especially when it puts the public at risk,” Pfefferkorn said.

FBI statistics show that one person dies every day as a result of police pursuits. One percent of all U.S. law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty lost their lives in vehicle pursuits, the bureau said. Innocent people who happened to be in the way make up 42 percent of people killed or injured in police pursuits.

Pfefferkorn was livid after learning that police in Cape Girardeau chased a man at speeds up to 110 mph — with a 3-year-old girl in the suspect’s back seat.

“I don’t want to come off as being unsupportive of the police in any fashion,” Pfefferkorn said. “It’s not the police as a whole. It’s that individual’s decision. He made a bad one. He put that child in danger, and I’m talking about the policeman.”

Police officials in Cape Girardeau and Perry counties countered that it is their job to keep the streets free of people who may be out to do harm. They say officers are trained to keep the chases as safe as they can.

Perry County Sheriff Gary Schaaf said officers must weigh the risk of a chase and consider several factors: The time of day, traffic, information about the suspect, and safety.

“It has to be the officer’s decision and he doesn’t have much time to weigh it,” Schaaf said. “We don’t always like it, but we have to think about the damage a dangerous suspect can do if we let him go.”

Last week, Cape Girardeau police caught a suspect wanted in Arkansas for several felonies. He and two others were taken into custody after a chase through city streets in evening traffic.

Interim police chief Roger Fields insisted that his officers made the right call.

“There are always those risks,” Fields said. “But the officers can terminate those proceedings at any time. But this was a good call. When people are actively committing violent crimes, you need to get that stopped.”

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Information from: Southeast Missourian, http://www.semissourian.com

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