Law: The Perils of Hot Pursuit

Do police chases safeguard or jeopardize the public?

The scene is de rigueur in any self-respecting cinematic crime thriller: an officer grabs the patrol-car mike and announces, "Officers in hot pursuit." Sirens blare, lights flash, hearts and motors race. Sometimes the chase is exhilarating, as in Bullitt. Sometimes it is comic, as in Smokey and the Bandit. It invariably involves smashups and high tension, but rarely does anyone get hurt. Alas, nothing could be further from reality. "The pursuit is a cop's most deadly weapon other than a gun," declares criminal-justice professor Geoffrey Alpert of the University of South Carolina. Some believe it is deadlier. Says Erik Beckman, professor...

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