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Officers weigh danger to public during high-speed chases

By Jed Boal | Posted - Feb 26th, 2013 @ 7:24pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of commuters were out on the interstate during a high-speed chase that ended in the death of the suspect being pursued Monday.

Police said keeping the public safe during a chase is a difficult task, but that it is always their top concern; officer safety comes second.

Dwayne Baird, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said officers involved in Monday's chase kept constant radio contact with police dispatchers as they headed north on I-15. He said the officers had a lot to consider as they pursued Brett Max Knight, 33, from Lehi into Davis County.

"Is he going to do something that will drastically change the dynamics of this chase, where other people or involved or injured in crashes?" he said.


Additionally, officers assessed the threat to the public and the threat from letting the suspect go. Utah Highway Patrol troopers slowed traffic behind the pursuit and in the southbound lanes as well. Baird said motorists typically clear out.

"They look in the rear view mirror and see all these lights going and emergency lights going on," he said. "They tend to move over and get out of the way."

Even during the final confrontation — which ended with police fatally shooting Knight — traffic was still moving in the southbound lanes.

"The shooting happened so fast that they didn't have officers on the other side of the freeway to stop that traffic," Baird said.

Those motorists were very close as the deadly moments played out, and police started to close those lanes.

"Typically that would be ideal, but in this case it wasn't feasible," said Baird.

Law enforcement also relies on the Utah Department of Transportation's traffic cameras during high-speed chases.

"Right away we start hearing commotion on the traffic scanners," said John Gleason, UDOT spokesman.

UDOT doesn't close roads or divert traffic during a chase — that's a job left up to police. But they focus cameras to help both motorists and law enforcement.

Is he going to do something that will drastically change the dynamics of this chase, where other people or involved or injured in crashes?

–Dwayne Baird, Department of Public Safety

"We can find out exactly what's going on so that we can best notify the public with traffic safety alerts," said Gleason.

UDOT alerted motorists on electronic message boards, Twitter and the UDOT mobile app.

"People can look into the situation as it's going on and see where it's happening and know what areas to avoid," said Gleason.

By the time the chase reached Davis County, traffic was at its peak. A major problem, considering roughly 27,000 cars commute into Davis County every night.

"This obviously presented a lot of headaches to commuters," said Gleason.

After the suspect was shot, northbound lanes of I-15 and Legacy Highway were closed. Six lanes of traffic were diverted onto two lanes on Highway 89. This was the biggest traffic snarl in recent memory from where they sit in the traffic center.

"We try to get the word out as much as possible to avoid trouble spots," said Gleason.

The traffic jam caused by the chase lasted more than five hours. In the days ahead, investigators will review the chase and discuss what worked and how they can improve, Baird said.

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