Those of you who are old enough will no doubt remember the slow-motion Los Angele Police Department pursuit of O.J. Simpson’s Ford Bronco in June of 1994. The “chase” (if you can call it that) lasted approximately two hours and covered 60 miles, mostly on the 405 after he became a suspect in the murder of his wife and her friend. A good portion of the country was glued to the live news feed of the 35-mph pursuit, running from Orange County and finally ending at OJ’s home in Brentwood, a suburb of Los Angeles. That certainly wasn’t Southern California’s first police chase and not even it’s first live news feed of police pursuit, but it put Southern California on the map as police chase reality TV central.
We may be fascinated by the “excitement” of a live-feed police pursuit, but these chases are usually at higher speeds than the O.J. chase, are dangerous, and more frequent that you might think. For the most recent year, 2019, in which the statistics are made public, the CHP alone was involved in almost 2,500 police pursuits. Looking across all law enforcement agencies in the state, there were over 9,000 law-enforcement vehicle pursuits in 2018. Something around 20% of these pursuits end in a collision, some causing injury, and sadly some causing death. In 2020, 41 people died as a result of a law-enforcement vehicle pursuit making it the deadliest year on record since 2006. (Statistics for 2021 are not yet available.) A portion of those injured or killed by a police chase includes innocent bystanders.
While audiences watch the live feed of a police chase, the anticipation keeps them glued to the real-life drama. How will it end? Will there be a spectacular crash? Will someone get hurt? Will the suspect get away? The drama can increase a network’s rating, often substantially, by interrupting the regular programming for “breaking news” or devoting much of the news hour to the on-going IRL chase. The live-action event even sends spectators who are nearby out to witness the drama. It is guaranteed to get viewers and thus following these chases with helicopters equipped with cameras becomes a competitive race between the networks.