Not long ago, U.S. Border Patrol agents initiated a pursuit of a vehicle operated by suspected illegal aliens through a suburban Southern California community. The vehicle failed to yield, continued at a high rate of speed, and exited the freeway with complete disregard for public safety. At the height of the high-speed chase, the vehicle drove through a crowded school zone, injuring several children and killing four people.
Although the pursuit was legally justified, the local community was outraged at the aftermath caused by the crash. The same was true after 14 people were killed in pursuit-related incidents during a single weekend in the greater Los Angeles area. Following these and other incidents, agencies and officers throughout the United States began to address numerous questions, including: At what point, should the officer or agency determine whether the pursuit is worth continuing? What justification is necessary to continue any pursuit? What guidelines should be initiated by an individual department? And how should this information be disseminated to the rank-and-file officers?
To prevent tragedies like the Southern California incidents, every agency must establish specific policies and procedures regarding vehicle pursuits. Law enforcement must successfully balance the goal of catching suspects who flee in vehicles with protecting the public it serves.
This is particularly true at a time when criminals are more ruthless than ever and demonstrate a complete disregard for life and property. When being pursued by law enforcement, not only are they more reluctant to stop, but the goal of catching suspects who flee in vehicles with protecting the public it serves.
This is particularly true at a time when criminals are more ruthless than ever and demonstrate a complete disregard for life and property. When being pursued by law enforcement, not only are they more reluctant to stop, but they also drive with reckless abandon with little thought to the consequences of their actions. The California Three Strike law may also add to this; suspects who fear increased penalties are more likely to flee to avoid capture.
Most law enforcement officers feel compelled to apprehend such violators, but risk managers and legal counsel will tell you otherwise. Pursuits that end in collision can cost the taxpayers millions of dollars-not to mention the loss of innocent lives, they warn. In the event of an accident, courts will scrutinize your agency's pursuit policy, actual driving practices and examine the officer's training in an effort to determine if the policy was followed.
Because of the increased activity and bad publicity surrounding deadly vehicle pursuits, laws such as the public agency immunity law, Vehicle Code Section 17004.7 were enacted, giving California law enforcement certain immunity in hopes for more strict control of pursuits.
Leading the Way
California law enforcement has traditionally been a national leader in all types of training.
Among other things, it is host to the Emergency Vehicle Operations Training Center (EVOC), located in Sam Bernadino, as well as the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).
Large agencies such as the California Highway Patrol, The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department have been pioneers in EVOC training. In the past 10 to 15 years, other agencies like the San Bernadino County Sheriff's Department have also risen to leadership roles in this type of training.
POST, which sets minimum training standards and certifies training courses for California law enforcement, also has been active in this endeavor for many years. It enlists the aid of experts in the field-dubbed Subject Matter Experts (SME)-composed of trainers, administrators, educators and other qualified individuals.
For example, the current SME list for the driver training committee consists of representatives from agencies such as the California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles Police Department, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, San Diego Police Department, San Francisco Police Department, Sacramento Police Department, Los Medanos College and others. These agencies by far train more than all others combined, and collectively represent more than 100 years of driver training experience.
This committee regularly reviews EVOC training standards and compares them with new laws, techniques, systems, technology and other factors. It also updates those standards and creates training curriculums to meet today's needs and tomorrow's challenges; two instructor manuals and several certified courses have been written to meet the training needs. Additionally, this group has developed an interactive computer-based training system as well as the Advanced Mobile Operating System (AMOS) driving simulator project.
As early as 1985, POST officials were looking into the possibility of simulation and its role in training. The first studies looked very promising, but it took until 1989 to find a company willing to venture into this field with affordable systems that fulfilled the specifications. A company called Atari Games Corp. (AGC), a division of Time Warner, showed a great deal of interest in the project and began development of a prototype. Early models were met with enthusiasm and anticipation of what was to come.
After much research and discussion, officials decided to use the simulators as a tool to help evaluate an officer's judgment and decision-making abilities. They would also reinforce good driving skills and identify hazardous driving habits.
This goal was to be accomplished by developing realistic driving scenarios that replicated actual incidents far too dangerous to set up in behind-the-wheel training-and included all the events that led up to the crashes. The officer involved in the simulated scenario would be faced with the same situations and make their own decisions based on the law, department policy, driving tactics and other factors. If they made an incorrect decision, they'd also crash.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department-the largest driver trainer of law enforcement students in California and the second largest in the country-along with POST, agreed to test, evaluate and assist in the development of a system that would meet the needs of law enforcement.
Two prototypes were used to study how to incorporate the simulators into an ongoing driver-training program and expose large numbers of students to the technology. More than 1,000 students were put through simulated scenarios, and the reaction was very positive.
After two years of development, the first four production models were delivered to the new San Bernardino Sheriff's EVOC Training Center. These were obtained through a contract with POST to provide a beta test site to evaluate the system.
Soon afterward, test sites were established at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's EVOC Training Center at Pomona and at the San Jose Police Department. After two full years of study, reports indicated this technology could very well become a valuable and cost-effective training tool.