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Guest Opinion | Police Chases: Why Must TV News Stations Report Them Live?

Published on Friday, February 22, 2019 | 10:59 am

Sometimes, I have time to watch television in the evenings, and there are a few things I look forward to. For example, I really like Doc Martin, the BBC program about a quirky doctor in some small English town.
But I particularly look forward to watching the 11 p.m. local news, mostly to see the weather reports for the following few days. It gives me a chance to see how my outdoor activities might need to be modified if there is rain forecast, or high temperatures.
However, for reasons that I have not fathomed, whenever someone decides not to stop for the police and makes a run for it, we are forced to watch the entire chase, boring as it usually is.
Last night was no exception. After the first five minutes of the news, and the weather teaser, we were told that the police were in pursuit of a suspect, and then we watched from the helicopter’s point of view as four or five police vehicles followed a van on local freeways. That meant that for the remaining 25 or so minutes of what was expected to be actual news, I was forced to watch a scene of a van at high speeds with police cars in pursuit.
I turned the channel. I was not surprised – though I was dismayed –to find that every other 11 p.m. news channel was covering the same event, from pretty much the same angle. Channel 2, 4, 5, 7 – nothing but the police chase! My time was wasted, and I only waited by the TV because I hoped they’d have some sense and at least cut in and give me the weather report. At the very least, they could have put the chase scene into a little box on the bottom of the screen so that those who really got excited by the chase could see it, and the rest of us could hear the weather report and other news.
I have never been privy to the offices of the news stations who make such decisions that a police chase is now the top priority and we’re going to cover it, until the end. For many reasons, it’s a bad decision, and should be changed.
For one thing, I often wonder if the fleeing person has a radio or small TV in their car, and is listening to the newscasters who are telling the viewing audience where the police are located, how many police are following, and speculating on what tactics the police might use to end the chase. If I were a police officer, I’d find this very intrusive of my work. In some cases in the past, because of the non-stop television exposure, people would be out on the street, cheering on the fleeing person in some cases, and generally getting in the way of the police activity. That wouldn’t have happened if the television station simply reported the news of the chase after it was over, and informed us about the outcome.
Another reason why I find the chase so mundane is that the newscaster are practically pulling hairs to keep a conversation going, especially when it is a prolonged chase. The commentary is predictable.
Is it a male or female driver? How many people are in the car? How much gas do you think they have left? I wonder where they are going? Do you think they will turn around and head back to where they came? Do you think he has a gun? Is the car stolen? Can we read the license plates? Why did they not stop from the police? It goes on and on, with mindless prattle about the details that concern the police but not the average TV viewer.
And sometimes it’s worse than that. We watch on live TV as a driver being pursued hits other cars, hurts people, kills people. It’s bad enough that it’s happening, but it makes it worse to think that the pursuing driver might actually be listening to the news report and deriving some sick glory from all the attention he (or she) is getting.
I think George Orwell would be proud of his ability to see the mindlessness of the people of the future of which he wrote. When every television station is fixated on watching the police chase someone, I can only think of Orwell and his insightful “1984.” Admittedly, sometimes we are told that the person fleeing is a felon, or has just shot someone, or some other fact about the matter, though we almost never learn the outcome of the chase. Sometimes it ends within the allotted time frame, and often it doesn’t. But even if we watch a car stop, and the guy get out, and get arrested, it is always a big “so what?” to me, because we still do not have any idea of the full picture of what just transpired – and the worse part is that I do not get to hear the weather report!
Suggestion: Call, write, or email your local television station, and tell them that you’re not satisfied with the incessant coverage of police chases. Their contact information is readily available on-line. Of course, if you like watching such chases, then do nothing, and everything will stay the same, and I’ll just have to start looking up the weather reports on-line…
[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books.  He is a teacher of self-reliance, and can be reached at]

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