NJ limits police car chases after APP investigation

By Andrew Ford. Published Dec. 21, 2020.

New Jersey restricted police car chases following an investigation by the Asbury Park Press and USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey that showed police vehicle pursuits frequently hurt or killed bystanders and cops. At least 23 fatal chases in the last decade started with minor traffic offenses, the Press found.

The Press recommended in the 2019 investigation that Attorney General Gurbir Grewal address a loophole allowing cops to go on potentially deadly chases for traffic infractions.

Monday, he did.

Grewal’s office announced an updated policy that limits police car chases to the most serious crimes as part of an overhaul of police use of force. The new car chase policy is posted at the bottom of this story.

“We will no longer permit officers to respond to one danger by creating an even greater danger to the public,” Grewal said in a statement.

The Press investigation showed in the past decade, New Jersey police car chases killed at least 55 people and injured more than 2,500. Bystanders and cops made up nearly half the people injured. The chases rarely targeted robbers or killers. When cops managed to catch a fleeing suspect, the resulting charges were mostly drug possession.

The Press investigation also showed New Jersey and Newark led the nation for racial disparity in car chase deaths. The Press recommended police record the race of suspects being chased to better understand the origin of that disparity.

The state is in the process of updating forms cops use to report car chases, which would include the race of the fleeing suspect, when known, according to Thomas J. Eicher, director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.

Under the new rules, officers will be allowed to chase cars when they suspect someone committed serious first-degree or violent second-degree crimes. The policy “creates a strong presumption against” car chases for traffic violations.

The new policy adjusts a standard that officers can chase cars when they perceive a threat to public safety — that threat must be based on the suspect’s actions before police tried to stop their car. Cops can’t continue a chase because of the suspect’s speed or evasive driving.

“Under the new policy,” Grewal said, “vehicular pursuits will be more closely supervised and restricted to situations where there is a clear and serious threat posed by the suspect that is not related to the pursuit itself.”