Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, October 1, 2017 11:49 am

Journalists, here’s a story idea at no charge

Last night, five people were killed here in Greensboro when a stolen car being pursued at high speed by a sheriff’s deputy ran a red light and crashed into another car crossing the intersection of Battleground Avenue and New Garden Road.

Around midnight, a Guilford County sheriff’s deputy spotted a suspicious vehicle that turned out to be stolen from Greensboro, according to a news release from the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office.

The deputy turned on his blue lights and the suspect vehicle sped south on Battleground Avenue. The deputy was about ¼-mile behind when the vehicle ran a red light at the intersection of New Garden Road and Battleground.

The stole car struck a car crossing Battleground that had the right of way.

Five people in the two vehicles were killed  two females in the vehicle crossing Battleground and two males and one female in the suspect’s vehicle.

As far as I know, the deputy was following departmental procedure, although I’ve been out of the game now for most of a decade and don’t know what policy changes might have taken place since I left the News & Record.

At the same time, anyone with a lick of compassion has to ask: Granted, this case is kind of a black swan as law enforcement goes, but was this chase really worth five human lives, at least two of whom, and possibly up to four of whom, were wholly innocent?

This brings up an idea I had in my reporting days that I never got to execute: What if news outlets did comprehensive cost-benefit- analyses of high-speed chases by law enforcement in their area and used those findings to advocate for changes, if any be needed, to local law-enforcement policy on high-speed changes?

As I see it, such an analysis would look something like this: Journalists partner with experts in cost-benefit analysis to total up the cost of such chases, assigning a dollar value to everything from damaged vehicles, fences, mailboxes, etc., to human lives. And also assign a dollar value to the benefits of such chases: the dollar value to society of getting a murderer — or, in this case, a suspected car thief — off the street. And then calculate how those costs and benefits add up.

Is catching an auto-theft suspect worth one life, let alone five? If so, current policy stands. If not, then ideally, policy would be amended accordingly.

News outlets are uniquely situated to carry out this research, but I invite any journalist, pro or citizen, to take this idea and run with it. If we’re paying too high a price to apprehend fleeing suspects, we need to know that. And if we’re not, we need to know and accept that, too.


Saturday, October 10, 2009 2:59 pm

Freedom isn’t free. So how much of it do you want, and will that be cash, check or credit card?

Lots of people like to say that. dday, bless him/her, decides to examine the real-world ramifications:

“Warmongers have had the great luxury in this country of never having to justify their costs. Not just the human costs, but the real financial costs to constant military buildup. The usual retort is that you can’t put a price on human lives. If that was the case, there would be no requirement for budget neutrality in health care reform, something that could save as many as 45,000 lives annually – the people who die from a lack of health insurance.”

The fact of the matter is that we’ve put a price on human lives, and even freedom, for a long time in a variety of contexts. Car companies weighed the costs of improving safety features in cars against the cost of payments to survivors of those who died because of their lack. Hell, even in World War II, the government weighed the economics, not just the military benefits, of making the P-51 its first-line fighter in the European theatre, a subplot touched upon, among other places, in Len Deighton’s best-selling novel “Goodbye, Mickey Mouse.”

National defense is essential. But not every step we take today to defend the nation is essential (and, on the flip, we’re probably omitting some steps that ARE essential — and wouldn’t it be ironic if we were doing so in part because of cost)? Each step, each option can and must be subjected to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis, in isolation and in context. The phrase “wars of choice” isn’t an oxymoron.

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