LA Car Chases...
February 16, 2011 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Have there been any books/papers/movies/theses/etc. done on the pathology of high speed chases particularly as they relate to Los Angeles?

What is it about LA that makes people want to get in their car to get away from the cops?
posted by speedgraphic to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Letter from California: The Pursuit of Happines: by Tad Friend: 1-23-2006: The New Yorker magazine

ABSTRACT of article: LETTER FROM CALIFORNIA is about televised news coverage of car chases in Los Angeles, [and the culture of the automobile that engendered them].

There was a brief period when the rest of America understood life in L.A. On June 17, 1994, 95 million Americans watched the O. J. Simpson pursuit on TV. “The O.J. pursuit fixed once and for all in people's minds how Looney Tunes Los Angeles is about vehicle pursuits,” William Bratton, the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D.), said. Most pursuits here are much faster and more violent than the Simpson outing: a quarter of them end in a crash, and about 15 each year end in death. Yet Bratton has learned that trying to stop them is tantamount to tampering with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In 2004, California led the nation with 7,321 pursuits, and the majority of them-5,596-took place in L.A. County. Sheriff Leroy Baca attributes the high number of pursuits in L.A. to a shortage of cops and a surplus of “highly mobile idiots.” The L.A. freeways are its public stage, its Colosseum. Pursuits are L.A.'s ultimate reality show, and the aerial inquests afford residents in the Hollywood Hills another way to look down on the poorer, flatter regions, where pursuits tend to originate. People critique the suspects route and revel in the mayhem.

Most of the city's televised pursuits begin in a lounge at Van Nuys Airport, in the San Fernando Valley. Here, helicopter pilots and cameramen from five local stations wait to hear about pursuits from police scanners. One Tuesday afternoon in October, Brian Dunn, the cameraman on the KTLA helicopter, got a call that Lindsay Lohan had just got into another car crash. Soon, KTLA's “Skycam” helicopter was circling the accident. Mentions the KTLA pilot Johnny McCool.

To achieve classic-pursuit status, you must have long, stringy hair; you must keep going even when all hope for escape is gone; and, having eluded your pursuers, you must then pull into a fast-food joint to be overpowered. If pursuits are doubtful entertainment, they are even shakier as news. Hal Fishman, KTLA's longtime anchor, hates pursuits. One morning, the writer was in a Sheriff's Department helicopter with Deputies Tim Alsky and Mike Granek when a pursuit began.

The L.A.P.D. launched its first helicopter in 1956, and KTLA launched its first “telecopter” two years later. The first live pursuit didn't air until 1990, but the pursuit truly came of age in 1992, when five stations interrupted afternoon shows to televise Darren Stroh's arrival in town. The chief dramaturges of this new aerial art form were Bob and Marika Tur. Jeff Wald, the general manager of KTLA, calls himself “the poster boy” for televised pursuits, but even he's amazed by their popularity.

Writer watches a pursuit on TV with Dunn and McCool at the Van Nuys Airport. Bratton forbade his officers from pursuing for misdemeanors or traffic violations. Since then, the number of L.A.P.D. pursuits has fallen by 20%. And the L.A. County Sheriff's Department has cut its pursuits by over 40% in the past decade. What no one can explain is why 2004 was a record year for pursuits in L.A. County.

To be sure, the California Highway Patrol (C.H.P.), maintains a liberal policy of engagement.

The writer trained in high-speed driving one morning with Deputy Edmundo Hummel of the Sheriff's Department. Describes the sensory overload. Describes the 1998 Daniel Jones pursuit, which captured Jones's suicide on TV. KTLA cameraman Martin Clancy says, “You see so much of the mayhem bad people cause that watching street justice…makes everyone feel better.”

Last April, in an attempt to shorten the length of pursuits, Bratton adopted C.H.P.'s spike strip and its Pursuit Intervention Technique (PIT). To PIT a car, you creep up beside it, then nudge its rear end so that it revolves 180 degrees and stalls out. Describes a KTLA helicopter view of an S.U.V. pursuit in the Valley.

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posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 10:14 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Los Angeles magazine did a big article on the history of car chases back in 2003. I found it in Google books (if that link doesn't work, it's the February 2003 issue; the article starts on page 50).
posted by mogget at 10:37 AM on February 16, 2011

I'll watch 'To Live and Die in L.A.' again sometime soon, since you mention it.
posted by ovvl at 4:29 PM on February 16, 2011

You might be interested in the first act from Episode 248 of This American Life, "Like It or Not":
For four hours in August 2001, KCAL-9, an all-news channel in Los Angeles, broadcast a very unusual police pursuit. The suspect drove under the speed limit, obeyed all traffic laws, signaled every time he wanted to turn. For the first three hours he's followed by a slow speed line of police cars, but for the last hour, he's driving alone—the police have called off the chase and are simply waiting for him to run out of gas. Producer Starlee Kine reports on the world's slowest car chase.
The episode features some rumination on the fascination with car chases in L.A., and even some interviews with the media, if I recall correctly.
posted by cirripede at 4:41 PM on February 16, 2011

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