The biggest three law enforcement agencies in Kenosha County report that there have been approximately 138 vehicle pursuits in the last 6 months. The Kenosha Police Department had 51, the Sheriff’s Department had 29 and the Village of Pleasant Prairie Police Department had 58. These numbers are based upon forms given to KCE by the agencies that are filled out after a pursuit, called “Wisconsin Motor Vehicle Agency Pursuit Reports.” According to to the law enforcement leaders we spoke to, this is a significant spike and they are concerned. Here are the responses to us from the leaders who graciously spoke to us about this problem:
Kenosha Police Department Chief Patrick Patton:
“The City has seen a significant increase in vehicle operators refusing to stop for police. KPD has an obligation to preserve peace, public safety, and enforce laws. KPD continuously reviews vehicular pursuits, the necessity for them, and gives immense consideration to the inherent dangers presented with them. Our pursuit policy is reflective of our obligations to our community. Officers terminate pursuits if they recognize an undue risk towards our law abiding citizens and visitors. Our Detective Bureau will continue to investigate and hold those people who refused to stop, accountable by referring charges to our District Attorney. In short, we will not become an agency of inaction. “
Kenosha County Sheriff David W. Zoerner:
“The Sheriff’s Department has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of vehicle pursuits over the past few years. In the past, pursuits were rare and involved serious crimes or intoxicated drivers. Things have changed, people flee from our Deputies more frequently. What was once a quarterly occurrence is now weekly and has progressed to nearly daily. These violators appear to have no conscience. Oblivious to the danger they put the public, law enforcement, and themselves in. We are obligated to enforce the law, and protect our citizens. We are committed to do so.
My Deputies and their supervisors are trained to recognize when a pursuit should be terminated when the risk becomes too high. We conduct a review of every pursuit and hold our staff accountable to our policy and procedure.
The criminals who flee will be held accountable. Their behavior cannot be tolerated and we hold them accountable to the best of our ability and that of the criminal justice system. So many of these offenders and young, impulsive and unaware that their actions can be prosecuted as felony crimes. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners from both inside and outside of Kenosha County to bring these dangerous pursuits to a fast and safer conclusion.”
Pleasant Prairie Police Chief Dave Smetana:
“The Pleasant Prairie Police Department has seen a dramatic increase in vehicle pursuits over the last three years. In 2022 we had 95 pursuits, 2021 we were involved in 72 and in 2020 we experienced 66. We have been working with both local and Illinois law enforcement agencies to coordinate the responses to the more involved pursuits. We have added additional training and equipment for our officers to enable them to handle the complex threats presented by pursuits.
At the Pleasant Prairie PD we balance our response to the actual pursuit and to the safety of the public by having a policy and procedure that emphasizes the public safety concerns. In addition to that, each pursuit is thoroughly reviewed, we understand that balancing the safety of the public is critical.
The issue becomes a question of, is the public safer if we take no enforcement action in these pursuits? I believe that experience tells us that while you may not be able to arrest your way out of these problems, you can’t ignore your way out of them either. If allowed, this reckless conduct will continue to increase and present even a greater risk to the safety of the public we are sworn to serve and protect. To have an impact on this trend, all facets of the criminal justice community will need to work together to enforce the laws and insure that when offenders are apprehended that they are held accountable by our legal system.“
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley:
“There definitely seems like a substantial uptick. I have seen that this is true nationally as well. These are of huge concern because they represent such a tangible danger to the everyday public. Everyone has to be on the public roads so the danger of a crash from a fleeing vehicle is unavoidable. Any solution is about public education regarding the dangers and consequences. Our lives are filled with movies and video games containing high speed chases where the hero gets away. How often do you see depicted the deadly crash involving innocent civilians that can result? Just like drunk driving, a combination of public education, societal shaming, and justice system consequences is needed. We have discussed, as an office, these cases and how they are a true public safety hazard. Of course, each case is different and must be considered accordingly. “
KCE reached out to the Lake County, IL Sheriff’s Department and Deputy Chief Chris Covelli told us that his agency, our neighbor to the south, has not seen an increase in vehicle pursuits.
Racine County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Michael Luell told KCE that his agency has seen 31 pursuits in 2020, 56 in 2021, and 63 in 2022, suggesting a large increase like in Kenosha County.
Our neighbor to the west haven’t seen a spike in vehicle pursuits. Walworth CO Sheriff David Gerber told KCE:
“We have observed a decrease in pursuits in 2022 compared to 2021. According to our TRACS pursuit submissions, we submitted 14 pursuit reports in 2021, and 9 in 2022. This is Sheriff’s Office submission and not the various municipal police agencies throughout Walworth County.”
KCE will continue to monitor vehicle pursuits and will start collecting data from the courts to let our readers know what the consequences are for theses offenders.
*Updated January 25, 2023 at 11:03am to include Walworth County Sheriff David Gerber’s comments.*