On the Run: The cost and consequences of police chases

Police chases are more common in residential settings than on the highway

27 Investigates looks at the consequences of police chases.

View videos of police chases in the Valley: WKBN’s interactive map.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The deadline is Tuesday for a Hubbard woman to state her case against the Coitsville police officer that crashed into her three years ago.

Coitsville Officer Donald Dudley blew through a red light at Lansdowne Boulevard and McGuffey Road in 2013 while he was chasing car thieves, and crashed into a car driven by Renee McConnell.

McConnell suffered fractures to her spine and ribs, and suffered a brain injury. She says she now has panic attacks and depression.

In court documents, she describes the ordeal:

I struggle with attention deficit issues I didn’t have before. In my line of work, I’m in lots of meetings that require me to be able to focus and pay attention, and I know my processing time is slower. It takes me a lot longer to get the projects done that I’ve done in the past in an easy peasy way.”

Dudley was found at fault in the crash. The police department has asked for the judge to make a summary judgement and throw the case out. McConnell’s lawyers have until Tuesday to argue against that.

This is just one of hundreds of high-speed chases each year that put lives at risk.

A chase that led officers across Cleveland in 2012 did not end well. More than 60 police cruisers joined in the chase and officers fired 137 rounds into the car.

“After that, a lot of departments started looking at their policies and procedures,” said Lieutenant Brian Butler with Youngstown Police.

Butler went over all of the findings of the investigation into that incident. He wanted to make sure what happened there couldn’t be repeated in Youngstown.

“What happened in Cleveland is that a lot of people in the police department assumed that someone else was monitoring that pursuit when, in fact, they weren’t,” he said.

Now in Youngstown, the commanding officer in the patrol division has to announce over the air that they are in command in the chase. They’ll decide which officers hold back, which stay in pursuit and if the chase should be called off.

Butler says this ensures that there is always oversight in the pursuit.

Still, suspects continue to run from the police and they’re doing it more often.

By the first of October this year, both Ohio State Highway Patrol and Youngstown Police chased more people than they did in all of 2015.

Most chases in the Youngstown area take place right through the middle of neighborhoods, putting people in danger.

For more than a decade, Milton Township Police Chief Charles VanDyke has taught police recruits how to act during pursuits. He says conducting a successful chase requires multi-tasking to the extreme, at high speed.

“Driving, talking on the radio, letting dispatch know where they are at. There’s quite a bit of thought that goes into that split second,” he said.

VanDyke said the most dangerous time for officers is after the chase is over. That’s when officers have their weapons trained on the suspect and are flooded with adrenaline.

“If an officer is going to get in trouble with a pursuit, that’s when it will happen,” he said.

Despite the best training, sometimes things do go wrong. He says each officer has to decide if the risk is worth the reward.

“It’s inherently dangerous to the public. An officer decides to pursue someone, they’ve determined that person is a danger to society and if they let them go, something worse can happen than a wreck.”

Attorney General Mike DeWine’s committee has been meeting since May to discuss ways to make pursuits safer for police. He hasn’t announced any developments yet.

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