Pursuit rage: Here’s why cops go psycho when people run from them

This is life in an America with an occupying military force.

“It’s called contempt of cop or POP: pissing off police,” says Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina criminologist and leading expert on police violence and pursuits. “These guys have a sworn duty to catch the bad guys, and that becomes an overwhelming instinct when someone runs from them. They’re going to try to catch them.”

And when they do, bad things often happen. Nothing seems to transform an otherwise reasonable police officer into a crazed beast faster than someone who flees.

“The psychology of pursuits is a very important factor in so many of these brutality cases, but no one seems to want to pay much attention to it,” says Gregory Gilbertson, a former Atlanta cop who teaches criminal justice at colleges in the Seattle area.

It’s impossible to know how many examples of police violence begin with pursuit rage since the U.S. declines to compile statistics on shootings and assaults by cops. As a result, no one can thoughtfully analyze the genesis of these events, much less make recommendations for how they can be minimized. But a growing record of anecdotal examples—many substantiated by police dash-cams or video shot by witnesses—suggests a pattern.

In one of the more bizarre recent examples, two deputies delivered blows and boots to the head and groin of Frank Pusok, 30, who led law enforcers on a long pursuit by car and on horseback in the Mojave Desert of San Bernardino County, Calif. after Pusok stole a horse. The April 9 beating was captured on video by a news helicopter. Pusok had surrendered and was spread-eagled on his belly when the beating commenced. Each of 10 deputies could not resist getting in a lick or two as they arrived, long after the suspect was handcuffed. They’ve been suspended and may face criminal charges. The county paid Pusok a preemptory settlement of $650,000.

Read on: If you run, you’re done: Here’s why cops go psycho when people run from them