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What the data say about police chases and deadly crashes

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Minnesota State Patrol investigates the scene.
Minnesota State Patrol investigates the scene where a motorist being pursued by the State Patrol veered into a Minneapolis school playground Monday, June 11, 2018.
Elizabeth Flores | Star Tribune via AP

Updated: 3:47 p.m. | Posted: 10:45 a.m.

The Hennepin County Attorney announced Wednesday that a 27-year-old driver who injured three children while fleeing Minnesota state troopers earlier this week in Minneapolis is charged with felony fleeing police in a motor vehicle resulting in great bodily harm and fleeing police in a motor vehicle resulting in substantial bodily harm.

The driver exited Interstate 94 and sped through a north Minneapolis neighborhood Monday morning before crashing into a group of children playing in a park outside Jenny Lind Elementary School. The driver hit three young siblings. School was not in session.

The state patrol said that Kayden Peltier, 2, and Lilliana Peltier, 4, suffered life-threatening injuries in the crash, and were taken to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. Their 3-year-old brother, Konnor Peltier, was also taken to North Memorial but was not hurt as badly. The hospital hasn't released more information about the children's conditions.

The driver fled on foot but was arrested. His criminal record in Minnesota includes convictions for driving without a license and not having insurance.

A report released last year by the U.S. Department of Justice found that more than 7,000 people died as a result of police chases between 1996 and 2015. Most of the people killed were in the vehicles being chased, although about a third of those who died were uninvolved pedestrians or motorists. In Minnesota during the same time ten-year period, 72 people died during police pursuits.

Minnesota has one of the lowest rates of fatalities from police pursuits in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In Minnesota in 2016, there were 1,751 reported pursuits and eight people who died as a result of chases.

State law requires that law enforcement agencies create guidelines for when they pursue suspects. But it doesn't dictate exactly what should be in the policy.

The Minnesota State Patrol's policy on pursuits says troopers should discontinue the chase "when there is a clear and unreasonable danger to the trooper, fleeing motorist, or other persons." But it also says troopers should strongly consider ending the pursuit if the offense is a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor, "the violator can be positively identified, and circumstances of the violation can be sufficiently documented to secure an arrest warrant."

Professor Geoffrey Alpert of the University of South Carolina has studied police pursuits and other high-risk activities for three decades. He said the language in the Minnesota State Patrol's is weak compared to other departments.

"How often can you make sure you're going to get an arrest warrant?" Alpert said. "That's way too high a standard. That's going to allow them to chase for nonviolent offenses, that's a very vague and dangerous policy."

Police departments used to "chase until the wheels fall off," said Alpert. But as states collected data, he said they saw the costs, deaths and damage that were being caused by these chases.

Most of the policies departments had about pursuits until recently were vague policies like the state patrol's, Alpert said. But the best department policies now dissuade pursuit in cases where it involves a non-violent crime, which he said has significantly reduced pursuits and deaths.

"More often than not, suspects will slow down once the cops quit chasing," Alpert said. "If really the job of the police is to protect the immediate surroundings and have the officers slow down as opposed to make the apprehension, all they have to do is terminate their pursuit and it's very likely the suspects will slow down and everyone will go home that day."

In cases where innocent bystanders or drivers are killed, Alpert said officer discipline is rare. But cities have paid multi-million dollar legal settlements. In the Chicago area earlier this year, two separate cases were settled for $13 million dollars for the families of people killed in high-speed pursuits.

The state troopers involved in Monday's chase are on standard administrative leave as it's investigated, according to Department of Public Safety spokesperson Bruce Gordon.

"Every pursuit is different and involves many variables," Gordon said. The "incident, including why the suspect fled and the ensuing pursuit, remains an open and active investigation."