Police chase highlights commitment to public safety

An assault on a police officer in Scarborough led to a car chase that extended through two Toronto police divisions as well as York Region and Durham Region on Jan. 4. Near 2:30 a.m. officers from 43 Division responded to a call at McCowan Road and Lawrence Avenue to find a driver slumped on the steering wheel of his van.

When the officer opened the van’s driver side door, the man became alert and punched him in the face before speeding north with the officer still in the doorway. Police chased the van for a short time before ending the pursuit for the safety of others on the road. But the night was not over for the driver, who was spotted shortly after by 33 Division and chased into Durham with the help of York Region Police. The driver abandoned the van in Uxbridge and escaped on foot.

Public safety

This was the first extended car chase by police of 2007 and sheds light on the important decision-making process officers must go through when pursuing alleged criminals.

It is the responsibility of the police department to ensure that the public’s safety is not put in jeopardy during a chase, Constable Victor Kwong said.

“If it is two in the morning and there is nobody on the road, then by all means chase on,” Kwong said. “But in these cases the public’s safety comes before the apprehension of the suspect.”

The decision

The Police Services Act specifies that “a communications or road supervisor shall order police officers to discontinue a suspect apprehension pursuit.”

But Kwong said any officer, regardless of rank, who is listening to the radio and has knowledge of the situation and area can call off the chase. In some cases it could simply be a constable who has excellent knowledge of the area the chase is approaching and, for instance, alerts the officers involved to stop the chase because they are near a school zone.

“Of course there is stress during a chase,” said Det. Suzanne Redman of 43 Division, “but the rules are straightforward and I think everyone has the safety of the public as the first priority.”

Redman said she has never heard of anyone challenging the policies for car chases and doesn’t expect to since everyone involved has the same interests above all else, which is keeping the public safe.

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