The State newspapers looks at local law enforcement protocols for police chases, which it finds to be vague or subjective. South Carolina sheriffs and chiefs defend the dangerous practice, which has fallen out of favor of police best-practices advocates.
Many South Carolina law enforcement agencies are relying on vague or subjective high-speed chase policies, legitimizing dangerous pursuits, reports The State. Even when it appears a policy has been violated, police chiefs and sheriffs defend the chases as necessary, and officers are rarely punished. As Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews put it, “If someone flees, we chase.” Meanwhile, people are dying — including bystanders not involved in the chases. South Carolina ranks eighth in the nation for people killed as a result of police pursuits per capita, according to federal data. On average, one person died every month from 2006 to 2016.
The vast majority of chases are initiated over traffic violations and other non-violent crimes, a review by the newspaper showed. National experts say police should only chase those suspected of violent crimes, such as a murder, robbery or rape. Many of the pursuit policies of S.C. law enforcement agencies advise officers to consider the seriousness of the suspected offense before giving chase — without explicitly stating which offenses justify a pursuit. Officers must also consider a number of other variables too, including the time of day, weather and traffic conditions. In Richland County, it is straightforward. The sheriff’s department policy reads, “In no case shall vehicular pursuit be used in instances of a non-jailable offense.” But a number of pursuits have been initiated over moving traffic violations such as speeding or failing to signal a turn. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott defends those chases, saying, “The person escalates it to a jailable offense once they’ve refused to stop (for blue lights).”