High-speed pursuit: Wisconsin police officers chasing more suspects

The Associated Press

High-speed police chases and injuries are becoming more common in Wisconsin, despite some police departments’ restrictions on chases over minor infractions, according to a recent analysis of Wisconsin Department of Transportation records.

Law enforcement officials were involved in 567 chases during the first six months of this year, accounting for a 33 percent increase from last year, the report by Gannett Wisconsin Media found. That’s the highest number of police chases since 2007.

The number of incidents involving injuries also reached a five-year high, but no deaths were reported by police.

It’s unclear what’s driving the increase, but it contradicts efforts by some law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin and across the country to refrain from chasing suspects.

Police officials in some of the state’s communities moved to restrict officers from chasing suspects involved in minor offenses after the deaths of four bystanders in Milwaukee in late 2009 and early 2010.

“We have a very tight policy. It’s not a no-pursuit policy but it’s awful close,” Evansville Police Chief Scott McElroy said. “I don’t think everybody is trained to drive that fast. We don’t do enough of it and I just think there’s too many other things that can go wrong.”

But the surge largely is due to an increase in police chases that took place in the state’s southeastern region and stemmed from minor offenses, the Gannett Wisconsin Media analysis of state records determined. The number of chases over traffic violations during the first half of 2015 in Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha counties nearly doubled to 131, compared to 71 last year.

In comparison, law enforcement agencies in central and northeastern Wisconsin reported 102 chases during the first six months of this year, a 10 percent decrease from the same period last year, the records show.

The analysis of state records also calls into question the accuracy of Wisconsin’s system for tracking police chases. Although local police agencies are required by state law to report all of their chases to the Department of Transportation, many chases are missing from the statewide records database, according to Gannett Wisconsin Media.

Most of the missing chases happened in southeastern Wisconsin, so comparisons between past and present data could be skewed.