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Archive for Thursday, May 12, 2005

Live TV captures car chase, killing

May 12, 2005

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— At least two television stations provided live coverage Wednesday as Long Beach police officers fatally shot a man after a car chase, reigniting a debate about how TV news outlets should cover chases and other live events that could end in violence.

The shooting came at the end of a 50-minute chase across Long Beach and the South Bay that the local CBS and ABC affiliates followed with TV helicopters -- the kind of story that has become a staple of L.A. newscasts.

But when the suspect suddenly jumped out of his vehicle at a Long Beach strip mall and reached for a pistol, the cameras captured a group of police officers opening fire and the suspect falling to the ground.

Coverage of car chases and similar live events has been an issue of contention since 1998, when local stations broadcast live the death of a despondent man who shot himself on an Interstate 105 overpass. Concerns intensified two years ago, when five stations provided live coverage as Los Angeles police shot a robbery suspect to death in front of a high school.

After that incident, Los Angeles police publicly urged TV stations to reduce their coverage of chases, arguing that the intense focus encourages criminals to flee from authorities.

Some TV stations dispute this contention and argue that the chases are news. And on Wednesday, officials at KABC defended the way they handled the chase.

"Live breaking news is always unpredictable," said William Burton, a station spokesman. "Our news staff was aware of the increasing danger and violence. We responded accordingly."

Burton said it was impossible to know what would happen to the man when he got out of the car. "He looked like he was going to run away. ... Obviously, no one knew shots were going to be fired. The instant we did, we went to a wide shot. It was not 10-20 seconds after, but the moment we were aware it was happening."

Long Beach police officer Greg Schirmer said Wednesday's incident began after police received a report that a car had been stolen during a home-invasion robbery Monday in Riverside. Details of that incident were not immediately available.

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