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How to Conduct a High-Speed Pursuit

When the subject keeps on driving, here's how to best take chase.

April 01, 2003  |  by John L. Bellah

You're sitting at a stoplight in your patrol car in a residential area right next to an elementary school. It's early afternoon and you can see kids getting ready to board buses and walk home. As you wait at the intersection a woman zooms past you, running the red light going 50 mph, 25 miles over the speed limit. Should you drive after her, also driving through a red light, hoping she'll stop? Or would a possible high-speed pursuit be more dangerous to the school children and other citizens than the woman's reckless driving?

To know what you would do in this and other situations, ask yourself, "Does the need to pursue outweigh the risks involved?"

Well, to answer this question you need to take into account your agency's pursuit policy and guidelines as well as weather and traffic conditions, police vehicle capabilities, and officer skills and communications-all in a split second.  Even then, there isn't always a right answer.


Before they set foot in a patrol car on duty, most officers receive some instruction on emergency vehicle operations during their basic training at the academy. In many jurisdictions, this training is mandated by department policy and/or state law. However, like firearms skills and baton techniques, emergency vehicle operations are considered perishable skills and periodic refresher training is necessary to maintain proficiency. Taking those refresher courses if at all possible is a good start to honing pursuit skills.

Vehicle Safety

Although driving fast can be dangerous, a police vehicle that can’t safely reach high speeds when you need it to can cause even more problems.

Once your skills are in shape you need to make sure your car is in shape for a possible high-speed pursuit. The police vehicle is a vitally important tool during a pursuit. Keeping it well maintained and in good mechanical condition is important to the safety of the officer(s) inside and to the general public. Tires, brakes, and suspension components should all be in proper working order and capable of withstanding high speeds. Substandard brake pads and shock absorbers do not belong on a police vehicle.

The same is true for tires. Many managers have been tempted to replace patrol cars' original equipment (O.E.) tires with less expensive tires under the rationale that their patrol cars "only" operate at low speeds within the city. This practice is false economy and can be dangerous. Alternative replacement tires may alter the handling characteristics of a vehicle, and the tires may fail at the high speeds the vehicle is capable of.

Both the Ford Crown Victoria and Chevrolet Impala are capable of top speeds in excess of 120 mph. The Dodge Intrepid tops out at 135 mph. These cars require tires that are "speed rated" for the cars' top speeds.

Many agencies specify that only original-equipment replacement parts be fitted to their police vehicles. This is for good reason, as aftermarket components may negate certain aspects of the police vehicle, affecting performance, handling, stopping, and reliability. There are also warranty and liability concerns.

Of course, using the right vehicle for pursuits is important, as well. Not all police vehicles are certified as "pursuit" vehicles by the manufacturer. Pursuit-certified vehicles are designed to function under the heavy demands of overall police service. There are also special service package vehicles that are designed for police service. However, the manufacturers have not certified them as pursuit vehicles.

With the quest for more interior room in police vehicles, many agencies are looking toward Sport Utility Vehicles. But with the exception of older vintage Chevrolet Tahoes, the only currently manufactured SUV that is pursuit-certified is the Hummer, with a top speed of 85 mph. Using a vehicle that is not pursuit-certified is asking for problems.

Regardless of the type of vehicle being driven, every officer should thoroughly inspect his or her patrol vehicle before going on duty. Do the lights and siren work properly? Is safety equipment in order? Brakes, tires, and shock absorbers in good working order? Are the tires properly inflated? Fuel tank full?

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