OK, admit it. The high-speed pursuits you saw on the old TV shows and movies had a big part in all of our decisions to enter the world of law enforcement. Sure, there was a lot more to the decision, but chasing the bad guys still had a factor in all of our decisions (or at least it was a nice perk). Therefore, pursuits will always hold a place of honor in the hearts of police officers nationwide.
However, times have changed. The cities and counties we work for have cast a frown upon our once glorious pastime. Incidents within the past decade have forced many agencies to adopt a "no pursuit policy," meaning criminals get to run free as soon as they step on the gas. To be fair, there are compelling arguments on both sides of this policy. On one hand, no one wants to see the bad guys get away when an officer had them pegged. On the other hand, absolutely no one wants to see an innocent pedestrian or motorist get hurt (or worse) because of that same said bad guy driving like a maniac. So, risk control took over and the no pursuit policy was born.
Still, there are many agencies that still chase vehicles for a wide variety of reasons. With that in mind, we will take a look at a few factors to consider when engaging in a high-speed pursuit. Most of these will deal with a few will be fundamental issues to consider when choosing to continue a chase, or call it a day. However, one will be information you will need to radio back to dispatch, thus allowing your chase to continue and give you the chance to get backup rolling as quick as possible.
1. The reason for the stop: Why did the chase begin? Was this a simple traffic stop, or was it an armed carjacking you stumbled upon? Whatever the case, the reason for the chase is of vital importance. Truth be told, you may never know why the car hit the gas, but what you do know needs to be weighed with the utmost care.
Consider what is on the line when you begin a chase. Not only is the safety of you and other officers in jeopardy, but the people in the pursuit's path are at risk as well. Sometimes, it may be worth letting the suspect get away, especially if they begin driving through a densely-populated area. This brings me to our next point...
2. The area of the chase: Are you chasing this car in the middle of the desert with no one around for miles, or are you chasing him through downtown at lunchtime? Obviously, this makes a huge difference. The decision to continue a pursuit needs to be weighed constantly during the chase. It may start in a nice rural area perfect for chasing bad guys, but may quickly move to side streets where children are at play.
Remember, the guy you are chasing probably couldn't care less about the area, he is only interested in getting away from you. Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is terminate the pursuit and get away from the guy as quickly as possible, hoping he will begin to slow down and bail out on foot somewhere in the area. No crime is worth a suspect plowing into a school bus.
3. The identity of the driver: Do you know the person you are chasing? Are they a normal "customer" of your department? If so, consider terminating the pursuit if the driver begins acting fishy. Time is on our side in law enforcement, and he or she can't run from an arrest warrant forever. Eventually, you'll be able to arrest them and charge them with all the good things you wanted to...plus tack on evading and reckless driving, too.
Also, if you're familiar with the driver, consider if he or she has run from the police before. Do they normally ditch the car and flee on foot once they have somewhat of a lead on the pursuing officers? Do they usually drive like a maniac? Are they violent? Consider these when weighing your decision. Sometimes it can be much more effective and easier to set up a perimeter and let your bad guy ditch his ride, fleeing on foot.
4. Your own driving skills. What? Officers are vulnerable? Yes we are my friends. If this is the fifteenth hour of your midnight shift well into overtime territory, you may want to consider slowing down. Even if all the other factors give you the green light to keep up the pursuit, this one should shut you down immediately.
Remember, you are the final judge as to whether or not your pursuit is safe. You will ultimately be held responsible (or liable), and would you really want to risk your career for a criminal?
OK, so let's say all of these factors lead you to decide to hit the gas, and your chase is on. Now what? Here is one very important tip to remember while you are speeding after the bad guy.
Your position and direction: You'd be surprised at how many officers get a brain freeze when the gas pedal hits the floor. During a pursuit, you must consciously fight tunnel vision. Letting dispatch and your fellow officers know your position and direction is the most important thing you can do in a pursuit. It gets backup rolling your way and gives dispatch a precise meter for your chase. If you get into unfamiliar territory, dispatchers can help navigate for you. When you get all turned around after countless right turns, dispatchers can direct backup to you.
The one most people forget here is direction. If you are traveling at eighty miles per hour, you won't be where you reported ten seconds later! Radioing your direction will give other units a chance to intercept your chase, or to set up countermeasures. Put yourself in your partners' shoes; wouldn't you want to know the best way to help your fellow officers during his or her chase?
Remember, none of these tips will work outside your department's policy, so know it well. Police pursuits generate many lawsuits each year, so keep yourself in the clear by knowing your department's own rules of the chase. Stay safe!