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Georgia highway chases hit 5-year high in 2020

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 10:29 AM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The number of highway chases involving state troopers in Georgia reached a five-year high in 2020. Annual summary reports obtained by WTOC Investigates shows the Georgia Department of Public Safety was involved in nearly twice as many pursuits and crashes in 2020 as compared to 2019.

Chatham County ranks No. 2 in the state for where those chases occurred. So far this year, the department is on pace this year to exceed the 2020 statewide numbers, said Lt. Mark Riley, Public Information Director for the Georgia Department of Public Safety.

WTOC Investigates analyzed five years of summary pursuit reports going back to 2016. While the number of chases documented in 2020 is much higher than in years past, it is part of an overall increasing number of police pursuits - a concern for public safety.

“It seems like people run more and more from the police,” Lt Riley said, during an interview last month. “I really don’t know what the catalyst is for that.”

A breakdown of the 2020 data shows: Out of the 1,209 pursuits, nearly 70 percent of them involved crashes and more people were injured than in years past. There were 486 state troopers and state officers injured last year during pursuits – an enormous number of injuries compared to years past. As a point of comparison in 2019, there were 651 statewide pursuits. Five troopers and state officers were injured. No troopers or state officers were killed in 2020 or 2019.

The data mostly pertains to state troopers with Georgia State Patrol, but a small number of chases also involved Capitol Police and the Georgia Motor Carrier Division.

“Best case scenario is we get someone off the streets who is a danger to the public and a danger to society without incident - meaning that we don’t get hurt,” Lt. Riley said, during an interview last month. “We don’t sustain any injuries they don’t sustain any injuries there’s no property damage.”

Best case scenario happened about 30 percent of the time, according to an analysis of the 2020 pursuit report.

Lt. Riley explained in a previous interview with WTOC Investigates why the department’s policy gives state troopers involved in traffic stops complete discretion to then chase a driver. The pursuit policy does not require involvement by a supervisor – a standard many metro police departments have adopted.

“The trooper involved has a lot of discretion and while they’re in that pursuit they are constantly thinking about the different variables involved the dangerous, the environment changes. You know you can go from a rural area to a more populated urban area, rather quickly.”

The department’s policy was the focus of a WTOC Investigates report after an innocent bystander was killed on June 16th during a high-speed police chase in Savannah that began on the edge of the city and ended in a residential neighborhood.

Overall, more people were injured during pursuits in 2020 than in years past. Those injured included the “violator” and innocent bystanders. In 2020, 67 innocent bystanders were injured and four killed in Georgia.

Chatham County ranks No. 2 in the state for chases involving Georgia State Patrol.

Here’s a look at the top 5 counties in Georgia for 2020:
  • Fulton - 211 pursuits
  • Chatham – 74 pursuits
  • Dekalb – 61 pursuits
  • Muscogee - 31 pursuits
  • Troup – 29 pursuits

Read the full 2020 pursuit summary report below:

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