ATLANTA - A Channel 2 Action News investigation revealed that metro Atlanta police departments chased fleeing suspects in vehicles 879 times over the past 15 months.
More than 60 local agencies provided chase numbers to Channel 2’s Craig Lucie, who discovered that little research is done nationally on police chases or their outcomes.
Police officers have seconds to decide if a suspect at large is dangerous enough to risk a vehicle pursuit.
A 2016 pursuit had deadly results for a grandmother when College Park police responded after an SUV was stolen from a hotel.
Police chased the suspect to a southwest Atlanta neighborhood where Dorothy Wright, 75, was driving her grandchildren, Cameron Costner, 12, and Layla Partridge, 6, to church.
All three were killed when the stolen SUV crashed into Wright's Buick. The car flipped over on impact. Layla was ejected from the car.
After two years, the suspect is still at large.
"They wiped my whole bloodline from me. They wiped my mom and my only two kids," Joi Partridge told Channel 2 Action News after the accident.
The Partridge and Costner families are suing College Park, alleging that police “acted with reckless disregard."
In court records, two of the three officers involved in the chase had previously been reprimanded for violating College Park's pursuit policy. All three officers had annual pursuit training and are still actively employed in law enforcement.
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"We lost a whole family going to church. That's not supposed to happen,” Layla’s father, Douglas Partridge, said.
“Roughly one person a day in this country is killed in a pursuit,” LaGrange Police Chief Louis Dekmar said.
Dekmar chaired the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police committee on pursuit in 2006. The committee's report remains one of the best looks at chases in Georgia.
The report examined case law and technology and recommended tracking pursuits
“Look at the outcomes so that you can determine whether or not there is a policy issue or a training issue before an officer is injured or killed, or a citizen,” Dekmar said.
Since that report, more than 120 agencies that have received voluntary state certification through the Association of Chiefs of Police are now required to submit annual pursuit data.
Through those reports, the association has learned that most pursuits last less than five minutes, more than 30 percent end because the officer terminates the case and chasing officers typically have less than four years of police experience.
More than 350 law enforcement agencies in Georgia do not have state accreditation and don’t participate in those reports.
Dekmar said every agency should be independently tracking pursuits and analyzing outcomes.
“I think that’s a missed opportunity for those agencies as it relates to policy and training,” Dekmar said about those agencies that are not part of the report.
Channel 2 Action News asked 66 local police departments for the number of pursuits their departments made over the last 15 months.
Seven departments, including Ball Ground, Decatur and Milton, had no chases. Most agencies had less than 10 chases.
Seven police departments had more than 30: Henry County: 100; Union City: 58; Athens-Clark County: 45; Atlanta: 43; Lawrenceville: 39; Forsyth County: 38; DeKalb County: 36.
Of the 66 departments, the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office was the only agency that did not provide Channel 2 Action News with pursuit numbers. In an email, the department stated:
“There is no specialized reporting method for pursuits and thus the statistics would be extremely difficult to generate. We changed database software in 2017 as well. So, I do not have any stats as far as the number of pursuits.”
Henry County told Channel 2 Action News that 70 of their pursuits happened in 2017. Of those pursuits the department said 16 percent were terminated by officers, 20 percent were terminated by supervisors, and 23 percent resulted in the suspects surrendering.
When Channel 2 Action News asked Athens-Clark County for its pursuit numbers, it invited Channel 2 producers to observe upcoming simulated pursuit training.
“We have done an extensive amount of research on our police pursuits and, as an end result of that, we’ve changed our policy,” Athens-Clark County Police Chief Scott Freeman said.
The department admitted simulation may not be exactly lifelike, but it’s a low- risk way to practice making decisions.
“When he’s in a real-world situation, he’s already been through something similar, so he can do that same type of decision-making under stress,” said Lt. Ben Dickerson, who teaches pursuit training for Athens-Clark County police.
Freeman said 45 chases is about average for his department. He said high visitor volume for events such as University of Georgia football games means lots of opportunities for drivers to make a bad decision.
“It is about public safety,” Freeman said. “It is about the safety of the people out here on our roadways, and it is about the safety of my police officers as well.”
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