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Police pursuits in some Cleveland suburbs have skyrocketed recently; reasons, solutions remain elusive

Posted at 8:00 AM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 18:59:13-04

CLEVELAND — As the debate surrounding police chases continues across Northeast Ohio, newly-collected numbers show police pursuits increased dramatically in some Cleveland suburbs last year. 

In cities from Parma to Garfield Heights, Bay Village to Strongsville, and a dozen other suburbs, the number of times police officers chased drivers in 2021 doubled the average from the previous four years. 

In Solon, police averaged just over 14 pursuits between 2017 and 2020. But in 2021 the number of chases jumped to 41, according to police records. 

Solon Police's Lt. Bill Vajdich speaks about police pursuits then and now

“I think that people who get involved in pursuits as the suspects, don’t think we’re going to pursue at all for anything,” said Solon Police Lt. Bill Vajdich. “This word is out there, that ‘hey, police aren’t going to pursue anymore, so guess what? I’m going to take off because they’re not coming after me.” 

But Vajdich said, in many cases, that belief isn’t true.  

Instead, he said the decision of whether or not to chase a driver who doesn’t stop for police, comes down to risk versus reward. 

“Is the risk to the public greater than the reward of actually catching the person for what you know the person did?” said Vajdich. 

That risk to the public is something Sherrie Chappman knows too well. 

In December 2019, Chappman’s 13-year-old daughter, Tamia, was walking home from school when police said a stolen SUV chased by Cleveland police crashed into a car, ran onto a sidewalk and hit the teen. 

The smart, ambitious girl known to friends and family as Mimi, died at the hospital. 

“It’s like a nightmare, it’s hard to walk up from,” said Sherrie Chappman. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. No one’s family to endure what my family has been through and is going through. It was terrible.” 

It’s why Chappman worries no one is safe as pursuits increase in some cities. 

“Your child can be walking from the stories, from your garage, from the mailbox,” said Chappman. “It can happen.” 

RELATED: Investigators find nine officers violated policies in police chase that left 13-year-old girl dead

Rocky River Police Chief George Lichman said the question of whether or not to chase a driver is often a balancing act between catching the bad guy and protecting the public. 

“We also have a responsibility to our communities, you know our residents, our stakeholders, to do our best to prevent crime and catch criminal offenders,” said Lichman. 

After averaging 11 pursuits between 2017 and 2020, Rocky River police were involved in 28 chases last year. 

And police in that city are on pace for even more pursuits this year. 

Lichman believes criminals are getting bolder. 

“It’s bold to just walk into driveways and take people’s cars,” said Lichman. “It’s bold to run from police for a minor violation. We didn’t used to see that much.” 

But longtime activist Al Porter Jr. believes there’s another explanation. 

“The reason people are running from police is because of fear,” said Porter. 

Porter believes the jump in drivers failing to stop can be traced back to a lack of trust in police. 

“A lot of times people feel like if I flee, my life is intact,” said Porter. “Maybe I can get home or get to a public area before they stop chasing me, so if anybody sees this stop, maybe I won’t be harmed.” 

But in Ohio, it’s tough to know how many police pursuits end in crashes, police using force, or get terminated because police determined the chase was too dangerous.  

In fact, some departments said they don’t track chases, despite a recommendation from an advisory group that the state set up a centralized database to collect data about police pursuits. 

But, more than five years later, there’s no evidence that database exists. 

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said he would like to see lawmakers require it. 

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Yost. “Better and more data is going to help us make better decisions.”

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