Cover Story: Police chase policy

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Investigators still piecing together a bizarre day that started with a trouble call from a home in Duncan, South Carolina at 3:30 am.

Inside, police and fire fighters found 36-year-old Dawn Mims shot to death, her 16-year-old daughter, shot in the face, but alive.  And their home on fire.

Police say 45-year-old Arthur Mims, the husband and stepfather, was the shooter and set the fire.  He then got in his pickup and raced north on I-85.

The resulting Police chase crossed into North Carolina.

Officers finally arrested Mims after a three-hour standoff in Davidson county.  He's in custody now.

These chases seem to become more common around the country or at least we're hearing more about them.

Aside from the tragedy, this chase caused a 15-mile traffic jam.  Why did it take so long to catch this man?  That's part of the investigation which is still going on.

But there were a number of factors that contributed.

They had the advantage of time of day and conditions were right to keep the pursuit going.

How and when do police decide to pursue?  And what's the policy?

DOT cameras in Charlotte caught glimpses of the pursuit as the suspect's truck with two highway patrol cars following behind went speeding up I-85 in the early morning hours.

"They weren't going real fast," said witness Mark Brown.  "It wasn't like it was wide open. It was 80 miles an hour something like that."

But it went on for 150 miles.  It began in South Carolina, went through eight counties through Charlotte and ended south of Lexington in North Carolina.

"Luckily the time of morning really helps out.. being early morning," said Trooper Kevin Hennelly of the NC Highway Patrol.

The time of day, troopers say helped determine why this went on for so long.

The North Carolina Highway Patrol's policy numbers 12 pages long.

Troopers must weigh several factors before considering a pursuit.

  • Road conditions at the time
  • The type of traffic that's on the highway
  • Speeds
  • And the nature of the particular crime the suspect's accused of

Dr. Vivian Lord, chair of the department of criminal justice at criminology at UNC Charlotte says, "It has to rise to some level of public harm to balance out the potential public harm of the pursuit itself."

The suspect had allegedly killed his wife, shot his daughter and set their house on fire.  He was considered armed and dangerous which is why he was pursued for so long.

Police chases can be controversial.  One study found only one out of 10 police chases involve suspects that are charged with serious crimes.

That wasn't the case here.

Officers placed stop sticks at mile marker 58 in Rowan county slowing the suspect down but he still drove for another 30 miles.

All the while police knew there would be criticism if they let the bad guy get away.. and criticism for letting the chase go on for so long.

"It's tough," says Sgt. Jeff Gordon with the NC Highway Patrol in Raleigh.  "It's a hard situation for any officer to sit there and do to basically analyze while you're trying to operate a motor vehicle."

Always evident of the dangers involved.. highway patrol policy calls for a supervisor to be monitoring the pursuit.

And only two patrol vehicles can be involved in the chase.

There are times they have to disengage and they do.

Stop sticks are the preferred method.. but there have been cases in the U.S. when troopers have been killed when a suspect swerved to avoid the stop sticks.

Another way is the PIT maneuver.. precision immobilization technique.. trooper slides the suspect's car off the shoulder.

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