A bystander is in critical condition after a police car swerved and crashed into her Pontiac during a high speed chase in Green Bay on U.S. 41. The officer was pursuing a car that had evaded another police officer after a hit-and-run car accident. The officer swerved to avoid stop sticks, which police use to disabled vehicles that are fleeing, when his car entered the lane of oncoming traffic and hit the victim's car.
Police authorities say that they are still investigating all of the circumstances of the crash and that they have arrested the man that was being chased by the officer at the time of the crash.
Police officers who engage in pursuing a car that is refusing to stop must weigh the public interest in arresting the person with the danger involved and potential for bodily harm or death. The factors that officers should weigh are outlined in a seven page statement prepared by the police department. The policy requires that officers continually re-evaluate whether they should continue to pursue the fleeing vehicle.
In this case, the decision to go around the stop sticks and into the lane of oncoming traffic may be considered a point at which the officer should have revaluated the public interest in continuing the pursuit versus the likelihood of bodily harm. During the inquiry the city will likely try to determine how much the officer could see before he swerved into the other lane, the speed of the squad car, the speed of the victim's car, and any other mitigating factors that contributed to the injury.
Another important issue to consider in this investigation will be the purpose of the chase and arrest. The suspected crime of the driver being chased was a hit-and-run car accident, which may or may not rise to the level of public interest necessary to conduct such a chase.
If the investigation reveals that the officer did not use reasonable judgment in pursuing the other car, the victim may have an action for damages against the police department.
Source: Green Bay Press Gazette, "Authorities investigate handling of car chase," Doug Schneider, July 10, 2012.