As I have written, police chases have been a source of controversy since the 1950's. Frequently the department's chase policy has come into question by the city council. During December of 1973, Councilman Norris Thomas proposed a resolution to limit police chases.
The police department did not agree with the resolution and prepared a report on police chases that was submitted to city council.
In the report, police administration requested that officers be allowed to continue to use their discretion in conducting high speed chases. It also stated, “While nationwide many police chases result in collision and injury, this is clearly not the case in Ann Arbor.”
The report stated the reasons for this were many, but, “the paramount consideration rests with the fact that officers of the Ann Arbor police are well trained in the judgmental aspects of the police pursuit and the psychology involved.”
The report went on to say that many had an unreal view of police chases, due to movies that produce spectacular crashes. Of the 50 Ann Arbor Police chases studied, 8 were called off by the officer and arrests were made in 33. One motorcyclist was killed during a pursuit when his vehicle collided with a station wagon.
No resolution was passed and the department retained control over chase decisions.
The obvious reason for the call to halt police chases is the danger they pose to innocent civilians. Fiser vs. Ann Arbor is a civil case which illustrates this point and is taught throughout Michigan, due to the liability it imposed on the city. This case determined that police do share liability in police chases, when the suspect they are chasing injures a third party.
The Fiser incident began on October 19, 1975, when Officers Dave Miller and Don Terry attempted to stop a vehicle that had gone through a red light at Maple and Dexter Road. The car was driven by Michael Lehman who would not pull the vehicle over as the officers were now attempting to stop him.
The officers were now chasing Lehman with their lights and siren on but he refused to stop. At one point, he lost control of the vehicle and Officer Terry approached it on foot, but Lehman quickly accelerated, striking Officer Terry.
Officer Terry was not seriously injured and Officer Miller continued the chase without his partner. He lost sight of the vehicle, but Officer Walter Lunsford spotted it and pursued. Within a short period of time, he stopped pursuing the car which continued eastbound on Madison.
Mr. Fiser was traveling in his vehicle south on Main St, unaware of the chase. As he went through the intersection Lehman's vehicle struck his broadside. Fiser suffered numerous injuries as a result of the crash including permanent brain damage. Lehman was arrested and charged with felonious driving.
Fiser sued the city for the “dangerous and negligent manner in which the chase was conducted,” as speeds in the chase were in excess of 100 mph. The circuit court dismissed the Fiser suit, claiming governmental immunity for the city. Fiser appealed and eight years later the Michigan State Supreme Court reversed the court's decision, which allowed citizens to sue police departments for chases which result in injury to a member of the public.