To chase or not to chase?
It’s a question local law enforcement officials have faced for years when considering whether to pursue a suspect in a fleeing vehicle or to let them go.
It’s also a question that’s being pondered more by local residents after several very visible police chases over the past six months. The most recent one Friday morning went the entire length of the Westwood neighborhood down Morrison Street before ending just past WCHS.
“We always weigh the need to apprehend versus the risk to the public,” said McMinnville Police Chief Bryan Denton, indicating the city has a very restrictive policy when it comes to chasing suspects. “If it’s a traffic offense, is it really worth it to run 80 mph down Main Street?”
Denton said McMinnville officers don’t initiate many police pursuits due to their congested patrol area inside the city limits. When a chase does take place, it is reviewed after the fact to determine its appropriateness.
“We’re much different than the Sheriff’s Department and the Highway Patrol because in the city there are high concentrations of people, schools and businesses,” said Denton. “We don’t have many wide open spaces.”
One of the most noticeable chases occurred this May when Howard Eugene Brown barreled through Newtown with several law enforcement vehicles in his wake. The chase was called off on West Main Street with Brown eventually speeding around the corner in front of Hardee’s before escaping. He was caught days later in Centertown.
Highway Patrol Lt. Billy Prater echoed comments made by Chief Denton in saying public safety is the top concern and many variables are taken into account when determining if there should be a police pursuit.
“The first thing we do is weigh the situation,” said Lt. Prater. “Do we know who the suspect is and is there another means of apprehension possible? If we don’t know them, what is the violation? Is it a seatbelt? We also take into account the conditions and the area. Is it Highway 287 through Rock Island State Park, or is it Jerry Cooper Highway which is very straight with few curves? Your mind is working like a computer to see if you should pursue.”
Like the city of McMinnville, Lt. Prater said every pursuit initiated by the Highway Patrol is monitored by a supervisor in real time and then evaluated after the fact.
“If we catch him for what we’re chasing him for is it worth the risk we may be putting people under?” said Prater.
Among recent local chases that have ended badly, Paul Edward Knight Jr., 41, flipped his car into a pasture just off Francis Ferry Road on June 29 and was airlifted to Erlanger while running from the law.
On Aug. 10, law enforcement officials had stopped chasing Jason Brown in the Mt. Leo area, but he continued driving recklessly and crashed into another vehicle on Shellsford Road. The collision sent both Brown and the female driver of the other vehicle to the hospital.
“I cringe when a trooper calls in a 10-99,” said Lt. Prater of the radio code for a pursuit. “It makes for a dangerous situation.”
Lt. Prater has straightforward advice on how to avoid chases.
“If you see blue lights behind you, pull over,” said Prater, who said he’s found most people who try to elude law enforcement are either driving on a revoked license or have drugs in the vehicle.
In the case of the most recent chase Friday morning, the suspect, Joshua Walling, 34, refused to stop at a driver’s license checkpoint on Highway 8 shortly after 8 a.m. Walling was charged with DUI, 15 counts of reckless endangerment, and two counts of violation of probation, among other crimes when he was arrested.
Several of the above-mentioned chases involved the Warren County Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Tommy Myers could not be reached on Tuesday for comment.