High-speed chases launched by the Houston Police Department increased 47 percent over a five-year period, killing more than two dozen people and injuring hundreds more.
According to a new Houston Chronicle investigation, at least 240 of the dead and injured in these chases were bystanders.
This isn’t exactly a new issue in the U.S. The inherent dangers of speed have led many police departments to develop new policies to drop such pursuits, particularly in areas of dense population or traffic. So why are Houston’s numbers moving the other direction?
Andrea Ball, an investigative reporter at the Chronicle, said she started looking into these numbers earlier this year after a series of car chases ended with fatalities.
“We had found that just between the years 2018 and 2022, the numbers had risen from about 1,000 to about 1,500,” she said. “A large number started with traffic stops. The police would try to stop someone and the person would not stop and the police would chase.”
Ball said Houston had much higher chase numbers than other Texas cities.
“The numbers in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio are far, far lower. We have different types of policies in Houston,” she said. “Houston has a pretty loose policy in the sense that (police) can chase anyone for pretty much any reason, whereas other cities and states have some of them have more tight restrictions such as we can’t chase them for running for a traffic violation, we can’t stop them for reacting to us in a reckless manner when we started it. And Houston doesn’t have that stuff.
We can’t say exactly why the numbers have gone as high as they have. We’re still trying to figure that out. There’s a lot of theories, but we’re still digging in.”
Ball said that Houston does have a policy, like other cities, that requires officers engaged in a chase to radio back to command and seek approval.
“They are always concerned, speaking with the chief, about where they are chasing. So school zones and construction zones are always a concern when an officer engages in a pursuit,” she said. “(Commanding officers) are supposed to be in communication, constantly monitoring where they are, how fast they are, and how the conditions do or don’t support a continued chase.”
Ball said the Houston Police Department gave a couple of reasons for their increasing chase numbers.
“They talk about the fact that Houston has a lot of cars on the road, that it’s a big place, that a lot of people in the overwhelmed jail system are out on bond now. We can’t really support those numbers. The numbers don’t really play that out right now. I think everybody’s really looking to see and figure it out,” she said. “The police chief says that they have changes coming to their policy that he hopes will bring these numbers down. It’s hard to say. We don’t know what those changes are yet.”
Ball said the situation has also caught the attention of local political leaders.
“I spoke recently with a councilwoman who has made a big deal out of this with other council people. She’s spoken with the mayor. She’s spoken with commanders. She’s spoken with the chief. Her big concern is that people get out of their house, go for a walk accidentally end up a bystander in a high speed chase and get killed. And it’s very devastating to her. Her name is Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz. And she wants her constituents to be protected from this. And she has really made this important to her.”