Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 013

Ban High-Speed Chases

Previous: Senseless Destruction of Priceless Cultural Artifacts is Fun

Pubescent James T. Kirk is driving dangerously fast to escape a cop on a flying motorcycle. With sirens blaring and lights flashing, the cop tears after the youngster. Apparently, people in the future have forgotten how many cops, innocent bystanders, and fleeing drivers are killed by high-speed pursuits (HSPs). We will examine this from a Vulcan perspective using logic and reason to guide development of sensible decisions.

In such developments, we look at questions of fact, issues of knowledge, and values. Proponents for HSP claim chasing a murderer is justified to protect the community and further: anyone who decides to flee should be presumed guilty of something more serious and they are responsible for the consequences of that choice. Also, it is held that limiting HSPs assists criminals in escaping law enforcement. Opponents claim that fleeing is usually irrational and causes unjustified harm. Like most longstanding debates, all opinions have some merit. If the primary goal of law enforcement is public safety and to promote justice, formulating some reasonable methods to achieve this is possible based on the principle of harm reduction.

In the United States, some data collected by the FBI and Los Angeles Police Department supports as many as 2,500 people die and 55,000 are maimed, crippled, blinded, etc. every year as a result of HSPs. Many who flee cannot give any reason and are baffled as to their flight, but those who can offer some justification cite having beer in the car, expired licenses, or as with young Kirk: using a car against the owner's wishes, usually a friend or relative. No doubt, some murderers flee rationally and to apprehend them HSPs are required, which is generally acknowledged as justified. A concern here is whether the public and the police should risk life and limb for a murderer, who is not a serial killer and will never kill again. In this case, I tend to oppose even imprisoning the perp, because it spends resources but does not produce any benefit like reducing harm unless we ascribe to a "make others think twice" justification of terrorism.

Let's guess and estimate relevant numbers starting with about 250,000 HSPs per year, 5% of these HSPs involving violent (rape/murder) criminals, of those, and 33% of them will be repeat offenders who need to be stopped. The highest conviction rate for violent crime found was for murder, at almost 12%, so with rounding up, we can expect HSPs to prevent almost 500 murders & rapes. Would a reasonable person judge the attempt to prevent of 500 horrible and violent crimes worth causing 50,000 accidental, but avoidable tragedies? This is difficult to justify, even taking into account profound inaccuracies of the model. Add the cost of paying for HSPs themselves and add somewhere between 42,500 and 112,500 instances of resulting property damage (17% - 45% of HSPs) annually, and the ability to justify HSPs becomes extremely challenging. I think our desire to catch and punish criminals immediately is evolutionarily based and we realize that deliberate crimes are more objectionable that accidents, so these 500 weigh heavily on our emotions, especially anger. We are driven to "educate" transgressors even when punishing comes at a great cost. Studies on this show the importance to our species survival of enforcing social norms.

Like many real world HSPs, the Kirk chase sees risks to safety and destruction of property for dubious benefits. This was a lazy method to insert a scene of youthful rebellion without taking the time to think deeply. If he were tall enough to see over the hood, Kirk could have easily been decapitated when crashing through a metal gate, and the cop could have been killed by the flying debris. Kirk accelerates to a gigantic cliff (not in Iowa) and leaps from the car due to a convenient suspension of the laws of momentum. The priceless 3 century old Corvette slides over the cliff ahead of him, and despite the appearance he is dragged by a cable, we are to believe that he slides to the edge of a cliff where despite the appearance he is hung by a climbing harness, we are to believe he miraculously caught himself by his fingernails. Clearly no climbers (or physicists) were consulted when this silliness was written and the stunts were planned.

I do have to say that I really wanted to laugh when Kirk climbs up from certain death, looks at the cop walking toward him and asks: "Is there a problem officer?"

Next: Vulcan Prep Schools are Elevated Dungeons

6 comments:

crone51 said...

That's why they call 'em " cliffhangers". Interesting sidebar.

Steamblade said...

To be fair there were no other people around, save for Kirk's brother Sam, er I mean anonymous acquaintance "Johnny". The whole scene is completely unneeded as we learn all too well Kirk is a delinquent from the bar scene. Supposedly the "canyon" is a quarry site for the shipyard. The physics and the kid's bad dye job make the scene laughable.

BurntSynapse said...

Were there no other people around? I'm willing to entertain the idea that it could be true, and that Kirk had some way to ascertain this, and that he went completely against his portrayal and bothered to find out before deciding to drive with criminal recklessness. But if we grant these increasingly improbable givens, they tend to conflict with the existence of a gigantic quarry for the ship in the neighbourhood, which one might expect to have at least some workers around from time to time.

Cap said...

A concern here is whether the public and the police should risk life and limb for a murderer, who is not a serial killer and will never kill again. In this case, I tend to oppose even imprisoning the perp, because it spends resources but does not produce any benefit like reducing harm unless we ascribe to a "make others think twice" justification of terrorism.

Deterrence is one of the functions of criminal justice. That doesn't warrant morally equating it with terrorism!

John C. 'Buck' Field said...

Hi Cap,

You are quite correct that having deterrence as a goal does not warrant morally equating an action with terrorism.

It is the willful use of violence to obtain some future benefit that qualifies such an action for the "terrorism" label.

If there were compelling evidence that greater violence against perpetrators does reduce violence overall, the "punishment for a greater good" position would seem much more sustainable, in my opinion.

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