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Car chases don’t fit the crime, critics say

It's the old game of cops and robbers played out on television. But after car chases are over and the police arrest those they're pursuing, what happens?

"For the past five years, we've been prosecuting approximately 1,000 felony-evading cases within Los Angeles in our office," says L.A. assistant district attorney John Spillane.

And 95 percent of those prosecutions usually end up with the suspect being convicted.

One of the most notorious pursuits was in May 2001, where a man hijacked a bus and rammed it into other vehicles, killing a woman. 

"That individual is now facing life without possibility of parole," says Spillane. "He was charged with felony murder and convicted by a jury."

Throughout the country there are tens of thousands of police pursuits each year, but no exact count. California keeps tabs, and in 2003 the state logged 7,203 car chases!

Los Angeles, with 533 miles of freeways, has been dubbed the car chase capital of the country. Half of California's felony-pursuit cases are in Los Angeles County.

But surprisingly, the vast majority of people the cops chase are not charged with serious crimes.

"Less than 10 percent of the pursuits are for violent felonies," says Geoffrey Alpert, a professor at the University of South Carolina who has trained thousands of police officers.

Alpert favors restricting police pursuits because of the dangers.

"Our research has shown that approximately 40 percent of all chases result in some sort of a crash," says Alpert.

Critics like Alpert say if 90 percent of chases are for misdemeanors, it isn't really cops and robbers, but rather a very dangerous game of trivial pursuit.