More than two-thirds of MPD pursuits have targeted reckless drivers after major policy shift

Milwaukee police
Posted at 5:46 PM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 19:26:07-04

MILWAUKEE — The family of a bystander who was killed in a police pursuit in Milwaukee is now suing the city and the officers who were involved.

The civil suit says Le’Quon McCoy was driving to work in 2019 when a suspect being chased by police crashed into his SUV. McCoy died at the scene.

The Milwaukee Police Department’s (MPD) pursuit policy has undergone many changes over the past decade.

Up until five years ago, Milwaukee police officers could only pursue fleeing vehicles if they believed an occupant was involved in a violent felony. While Milwaukee’s police union believes the changes have resulted in more arrests and accountability, some in the community fear it’s putting too many lives at risk.

Police pursuits can be extremely dangerous. MPD data from past years shows about half of all pursuits exceed speeds of 75 miles per hour, roughly a quarter end with crashes, and some have resulted in deaths of suspects, innocent bystanders and even a Milwaukee police officer in 2018.

"Officers do not want to pursue vehicles,” said Milwaukee Police Association President Andrew Wagner. “It's a danger to themselves, it's dangerous to the community and they're well aware of that going into it. It's something that we feel we need to do though to protect the community in the capacity of criminal justice."

Wagner believes that prior to 2017, many criminals knew that if they fled police in Milwaukee, they would likely get away due to the department’s pursuit policy at the time.

That all changed when the city’s Fire and Police Commission forced former Chief Ed Flynn to change the department’s pursuit policy to address a surge in reckless driving and mobile drug trafficking.

The policy change resulted in police pursuits skyrocketing.

Major spike in pursuits after MPD policy shift .png

Since then, MPD data shows more than two-thirds of all pursuits were initiated due to reckless driving.

Percent of pursuits initiated for reckless driving.png

When asked if Wagner believes if MPD’s current pursuit policy is effective, he responded, “I believe it is in fact effective. I think we need a pursuit policy that allows officers to pursue vehicles. I think what we saw when we had banned all pursuits is we saw a huge increase in what we call non-pursuits which led to many more accidents and many more incidents."

Currently, MPD is authorized to pursue vehicles for a variety of reasons, including if an occupant or vehicle was involved in a violent felony, if the vehicle or occupant presents a threat to public safety, or if the driver refuses to stop.

Community advocate Tory Lowe argues the risk isn’t worth the reward. He thinks it’s time to roll back the policy to only pursuing occupants involved in violent felonies.

"I believe it should have stayed closed,” he said. “I think they should have kept it to where you couldn't pursue. Why? Because of what we're talking about now, innocent lives being lost."

Lowe thinks the community would be safer if police let reckless drivers get away and locate them afterward by using license plates, vehicle registration information along with suspect descriptions.

New data from the Milwaukee Police Department shows pursuits have decreased a bit since its record year in 2018 to fewer than 900 pursuits in 2019 and 2020.