Thomas Sowell

High-speed car chases by police on highways, or even on residential streets, have become a staple of television news. An estimated 500 people died as a result of high-speed car chases last year.

Nearly half the people killed were innocent third parties.

The police have some tough choices to make when deciding when to chase and when to let the driver continue on his high-speed way. Innocent people can get killed either way.

Too many people in the media do not want to face up to any tough choices. Whenever some innocent driver or pedestrian is killed as a result of a high-speed chase, editorials are sure to appear, saying that this would not have happened if the police had just let the high-speed driver go on his way without pursuing.

We have no way of knowing whether reckless speeders will slow down if the cops don't follow them when they try to get away. The people they can kill when there is no police car following them will be just as dead as some innocent person killed as a result of a car chase.

Moreover, once there is a known policy of letting speeders escape, there will almost certainly be more speeding to get away from being arrested for either a traffic violation or a more serious crime.

Life's choices are seldom as easy as they may seem to people writing in the safety and comfort of an editorial office.

Nothing is easier than taking cheap shots at the police, and there are journalists and politicians who do it regularly, as well as community activists who make a career out of it. But the police are the last line of defense for the law-abiding population.

Universal sainthood is not the norm in law enforcement, any more than in any other walk of life. But police abuses require punishment for those who commit those abuses, not blanket condemnation for policemen in general or rules that tie their hands when dealing with criminals.

Recently a man in Ohio was shot and killed by a policeman he tried to run over with the car he had stolen. That driver had led the police on a high-speed chase and, when he was finally cornered, rammed one of the police cars and tried to ram a policeman.

A passenger in the car with the speeding driver said that the shooting was not justified. "For a car, it's not worth a life."

The man who said this had a long criminal record, as did the driver who was killed, but no doubt there are those who will take him seriously.

The issue is not whether the crime for which the driver is being pursued deserves the death penalty. It is the driver's choice whether to put his life -- and other people's lives -- at risk.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate