LA police chief pleads with TV stations to drop car chase reports

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The Independent US

In an effort to break Los Angeles' grim addiction to real-time police car chases – which do little to reduce crime and hurt dozens of innocent bystanders each year – the city fathers begged local television stations yesterday to halt their coverage to stop "careless individuals" from seeking fame in the media spotlight.

In an effort to break Los Angeles' grim addiction to real-time police car chases – which do little to reduce crime and hurt dozens of innocent bystanders each year – the city fathers begged local television stations yesterday to halt their coverage to stop "careless individuals" from seeking fame in the media spotlight.

The Mayor and the city's police chief told a news conference that obsessive media coverage of car chases, usually shot from helicopters over the urban jungle of freeways and six-lane through-routes, was dangerous because it gave miscreants an incentive to flee from the police and become the stars of their very own television shows.

"You know this isn't what your stations should be doing," the city's new police chief, Bill Bratton, said. He and other officials suggested at least a six-month bar on chase coverage, to see if it made a difference.

Television executives responded indignantly, saying if anything their coverage acted as a deterrent because televised chases invariably ended in either the arrest or the death of the suspect. Miscreants did not slam their foot on the accelerator to get attention, one argued, they did so in an effort to get away.

The showdown between city officials and the media is the latest chapter in Los Angeles' efforts to wean itself off dangerous car chases, which became compulsive viewing in 1994 after O J Simpson, wanted for the murder of his wife and her boyfriend, led the cops on a slow goose chase around the city's freeways.

Local stations now regularly interrupt regular programming to cut to live chases. One internet service offers to page its customers to alert them to a new chase. Under the media spotlight, the police have initiated ever more chases – almost 800 in 2001, the peak year.

More than 60 per cent of the miscreants are wanted only on minor traffic violations. With dozens of injuries and deaths reported each year – including a four-year-old girl killed by a falling light-pole that was hit by a fleeing vehicle last summer – the police have come under heavy pressure to revise their policies.

Mr Bratton, who moved to Los Angeles from New York with a broad mandate to reform the corruption-ridden police department, has lobbied to stop all but the most essential chases. But he has met resistance from the rank-and-file, who have a long history of pandering to the tastes of the media.

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