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Departments : Point of Law

Reducing Police Pursuit Liabilities

By having clear-cut pursuit policies in place, departments can help limit liability.

February 01, 2000  |  by Officer Charles W. Dahlinger

3. Discouragement: A policy severely cautioning or discouraging any officer form engaging in a pursuit except in the most extreme circumstances.  The discouragement policy gives the individual officer no discretion.  This policy only allows an officer to pursue a suspect if that suspect is known to be a violent offender.  This policy is very specific and officers may not vary from it in the least.

The "discouragement" policy is the one police departments around the country should consider and adopt.  This policy will assist in protecting police departments and individual officers form liability due to traffic accidents caused by pursuits that never should have continued.  "If administrators do not prohibit certain behavior, the officers might perceive the behavior as inappropriate," (Alpert and Dunham, 1989: 525).

When a discouragement policy is put into effect, administrators must clearly outline that compliance to this policy will be adhered to by all officers and discipline will be administered to those who violate this policy.  Accountability is a key component in maintaining this policy.


When police departments have well-defined policies in place, that are adhered to, liability is reduced drastically.  Documentation of these policies is also crucial to this process.  By providing uniform training, the policy will be clear and enforced correctly and uniformly.  Following these guidelines will help ensure safer streets for citizens, and potentially lessen liability for police departments.


Alpert, Geoffrey P., "Questioning Police Pursuits in Urban Areas," Journal of Police Science and Administration, 12/87, pp. 302-304.

Alpert Geoffrey P. and Roger G. Dunham, "Policing Hot Pursuits: The Discovery of Aleatory Elements," The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 1989, p. 525

Crew, Robert E. Jr., Lorie A. Fridell and Karen Pursell, "Probabilities and Odds in Hot Pursuit: A Benefit-Cost Analysis," Journal of Criminal Justice, 1995, pp. 418-422.

Crew, Robert E. Jr., David Kessler and Lorie A. Fridell, "Changing Hot Pursuit Policy,: Evaluation Review, 12/94, pp. 680-686.

Homant, Robert J., Daniel B. Kennedy and Jimmy D. Howton, "Risk Taking and Police Pursuit," Journal of Social Psychology, 4/94, pp. 213-214.

Nugent, Connors, McEwen and Mayo, "Restrictive Policies for High Speed Police Pursuits," The National Institute of Justice, 69/90, p.1

Nerbonne, Terry, Seminar in Liability Issues in Emergency Driving, Training Seminar, Kalamazoo, Mich., 3/99.

Ostrander, David and Karriane Epkey, "Police Pursuit: A Change in Policy." Ferris State University, 4/99.

Charles W. Dahlinger is completing his master's degree in criminal justice administration from Ferris State University.  He is also currently the coordinator for in-service training at the Kalamazoo Law Enforcement Training Center.

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