DALLAS (CBSNewsTexas.com) — With the number of people killed during high-speed police chases on the rise, there's a call for police departments across the country to rethink their pursuit policies.
The number of people in Texas killed yearly in crashes involving a police chase has been on the rise with more than twice as many deaths in 2021 (72 deaths) than a decade prior (34 deaths in 2011), according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
It is a trend seen across the country.
According to federal crash data, on average, more than 350 people are killed in the United States every year in police pursuits. Nearly a third of those killed, according to studies, are innocent bystanders.
Andre Craig, 57, of Fort Worth was one of those bystanders.
In July, Fort Worth police officers were chasing a reported stolen car when officers collided with Craig's vehicle, killing him.
"We are not talking about a suspect who was committing a crime. We are talking about an innocent person who was going about the business of their day and in the process of that he was killed," said Craig's sister, Nefertari Mundy.
Craig's family has been seeking answers from the Fort Worth Police Department, including whether the officers followed the department's pursuit policy.
The department said the crash is still under investigation and making its pursuit policy public could give criminals the information they need to elude police.
Fort Worth police records show since 2018, 51% of the time an officer engaged in a pursuit it was for a felony offense, 20% of the time it was because a suspect fled a traffic stop, and 24% of the time department records list the reason as "other."
Police officials said "other" often refers to situations where a supervisor has determined there's a danger to the public.
In Dallas, according to police data, in the past five years, 96% of the time that a Dallas police officer engaged in a vehicle chase it was for a felony offense or the suspect displayed a gun.
This is in line with the Dallas police pursuit policy that is posted online for anyone to read.
In efforts to limit pursuits across the country, some police departments have used spike strips, specialized nets, as well as more sophisticated tracking systems.
The StarChase technology allows an officer to shoot out a GPS tracking device from the front of a police cruiser, attaching it to a fleeing suspect's car.
A U.S. Department of Justice study found these devices to be a helpful tool but not a solution for all possible police pursuits. New studies recommend departments adopt more restrictive pursuit policies.
A report from the Police Executive Research Forum released in September by the federal government calls on law enforcement agencies to only start a pursuit if a violent crime has been committed and the suspect poses an imminent threat.
Matt Clem, a retired police captain and director of the Institute for Law Enforcement, said he thinks this recommended pursuit policy is a good policy for some departments but not for all.
"There has to be a balance," Clem explained. "We exist to make communities safe but you can't have that if you have criminals, who have complete disregard for the law, not being held accountable."
Clem said departments must also account for the risk in the message overly restrictive pursuit polices send to criminals.
"If they [criminals] sense that police officers are not going to chance them then, yeah, I do think they get more brazen," he said. "It's a complex issue and there are no easy answers."
For the past decade, Esther Seoanes has been searching for solutions to reduce the danger of police chases. She's been on this mission ever since her husband James Williford, an uninvolved bystander, was killed in a high-speed police chase in Austin.
In 2012, Austin police were in a high-speed pursuit of a stolen truck when the suspect ran a red light, slamming into Williford's sedan.
Seoanes blames the suspect and the department's chase policy for her husband's death.
"I think what we aim for is policies that are progressive and only chasing for violent felony crimes when there is not a better way to apprehend a suspect," she said. "This is a really big problem in our country that has to be changed."
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