Video shows a man illegally riding an ATV on a highway in Prince George’s

County and taunting a police officer who’s driving behind him. (WUSA)

When you see the video of the guy taunting police by stunting on his ATV in front of a cop car, you understand why police officers might be tempted to chase him down.

In the old days — when I was a teenager, for example –there was an unwritten code of the road: If you ran from the police, the police would chase you. It’s the impulse to settle matters in the street, which is very much part of the reptilian brain that’s sometimes awash with raw adrenaline.

Thank goodness times have changed.  Most police officers don’t even chase people anymore. Many departments follow restrictive policies that discourage police pursuits except under extreme circumstances, such as trying to apprehend a violent felon who poses an imminent danger to others. All but banned is going after motorcycles because of the risk of life involved.

Are there also the hazards when police lay back? Should police take more aggressive action when a pack of motorcycles shuts down the Beltway? Or when a bunch of bikers interfere with an ambulance taking a critical-care patient to the hospital, as happened in D.C. in March? D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said enough is enough in announcing a crackdown earlier this year.

Police face a difficult dilemma: Any time they initiate a pursuit, they run the risk of starting a chase that can spin out of control, potentially causing death or serious injury to themselves, the suspect or the public. And yet there are also dangers in not pursuing a fleeing criminal, who might cause mayhem even without anyone chasing him. Some motorists who were mobbed by stunters trapped on the Beltway in December criticized police for ceding the streets to anarchy. It seems pretty clear that the Prince George’s stunt rider thought he could get away with just about anything.

“We have this discussion all the time, as police administrators and police professionals: what is that line and how do you strike that balance?” said Terrence M. Cunningham, who is chief of the Wellesley, Mass. police department and president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He worries, for example, that penalties are so light in his state for failure to stop that drunk drivers would prefer risking a $100 fine for eluding a police officer rather than being caught and going to jail and paying heavy fines for a DUI.

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