Deadly crash reignites talk of police chases

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) - Thursday’s deadly crash that killed a Milwaukee police officer has already re-ignited the debate over police pursuits.

Officials were warned that a recent change in policy could sacrifice safety.

Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission ordered MPD to change their pursuit policy and allow officers more freedom to chase suspects.

Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales says now is not the time for second-guessing.

“We had an officer that died,” said an emotional Chief Morales after being asked whether the pursuit that turned deadly should have ever started, “we're grieving, and you all are trying to create controversy.”

But this controversy has raged in Milwaukee for years.

In 2017 the Fire and Police Commission ordered the department to allow officers to chase more suspects.

At the time, then Chief Edward Flynn believed the pursuits were a danger to the public.

“Keep in mind I changed this policy because four people were killed in a month by fleeing from police,” Chief Flynn said back in 2017.

“It's a very difficult decision,” said former officer and police trainer Bob Willis.

Willis says an officer has to make an important decision before giving chase. “What's the value of capture versus the danger that this is presenting to the community? When the danger outweighs the value of capture, certainly an officer should shut it down,” he said.

But simply backing off doesn't always help. Just recently Wauwatosa police didn't pursue a suspect but he still ran, causing a fatal accident.

“Many of them are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, bad decision making or just plain stupid, and those are things that a pursuit policy or an officer can't really control,” said Willis.

Pursue or not, suspects continue to run and police will have to decide if catching them is worth the risk.

“We hire our officers to chase people, to arrest people, it's just something that's part of the job,” said Willis.

While Milwaukee had their most police chases in a decade in 2017, the number of people injured in those chases actually went down that year.

The policy was changed near the end of the year in September, so there is no word on how that affected the numbers.

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