The work of a trio of TCNJ undergraduates made front-page national news prompting changes in policy on dangerous police pursuits in New Jersey.
Kyle Rich ’22, Nick Scales ’20, and Hailey Stack ’22 gathered information on car chase policies and outcomes from police departments in all 50 states during an independent study with Assistant Criminology Professor David Mazeika. Beginning in 2019, they conducted phone interviews, made official requests for public information, and followed up with calls and emails.
The painstaking compilation yielded noteworthy results.
“Roughly half of pursuits didn’t lead to an arrest for something serious; it was usually eluding and lower-level drug offenses,” says Mazeika, who, with Scales, analyzed nearly four million arrest records. “You’re not apprehending wanted serial killers with open federal warrants.”
Police chases killed at least 55 people in New Jersey in the past decade and injured more than 2,500, according an investigation by Andrew Ford of The Asbury Park Press, which included the TCNJ research and also ran in USA Today. Many chases began with routine traffic stops and nearly half those injured were bystanders and police officers, with Blacks disproportionately affected, the report found.
The article spurred a review by the NJ Attorney General’s Office leading to a policy change in late 2020 that now limits police car chases to cases involving only the most serious crimes. New Jersey is alone in having a statewide directive to address the issue. The call usually is left up to local departments.
Mazeika and his students also worked with Ford on an earlier story involving an analysis of gender differences and physical fitness requirements for police. Mazeika said his interest in the pursuit issue began in 2018 when a 24-year old bystander was killed by a motorcycle fleeing a police cruiser in Jackson, where he lives.
“I’m not sure how many undergraduates get to work on research like this. The attorney general and legislators were reading their work and commenting,” says Mazeika. “I certainly find it rewarding and refreshing — most academics just present at conferences.”
The research and an internship with the New Jersey State Police helped lead Scales to his full-time job as a Mission Support Specialist doing analysis at the NJSP.
“To do this type of research — to see it published on the front page of USA Today and see change come from it — at my age is huge,” he says.
— Patricia Alex