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Why can’t LA stop watching live police chases?

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These pursuits are dangerous and deadly, but we keep tuning in

Police cars pursue the Ford Bronco driven by Al Cowlings, carrying fugitive murder suspect O.J. Simpson, on a 90-minute slow-speed car chase June 17, 1994 on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles.
Vinnie Zuffante/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Los Angeles has a acquired a reputation for its car chase obsession. We’re not the only place where car chases happen, but we broadcast them live on the news like each one is the first ever. A short documentary out from The New Yorker looks into why Angelenos can’t not watch a car chase.

In the film, writer and former Los Angeles Magazine editor Mary Melton traces the nexus of LA’s police pursuit addiction back to the O.J. Simpson chase in 1994. The infamous white Bronco chase through LA was the first one that “made everyone realize ‘Wow, this is this incredible spectator sport,’” Melton says.

There’s a cost to our obsession with what’s essentially a modern-day gladiator sport. Since 1979, more than 13,000 people have been killed in the U.S. in police pursuits, the film notes.

There’s also the question of whether showing these pursuits in real-time encourages people to lead the police on a wild chase through LA’s endless sea of freeways and streets.

Still, even Melton admits, if there’s police pursuit, “I’m going to turn on the TV.”