Like many officers, you will easily remember the thrill of your first police pursuit. In my case, it involved a stolen vehicle with a young male driver. It was a short chase, as the inexperienced driver collided with a telephone pole and snapped his leg. Car recovered, driver arrested, excited young cop. Since then, I have been in other pursuits, but they tend to blur with the years. And our department, like many, has put tighter and tighter restrictions on pursuing fleeing vehicles.
I agree with these new policies. The risks created by fleeing drivers to the motoring public and police officers can be very serious. Great weight needs to be placed on allowing suspects to compound those risks further with each yard they recklessly drive to escape apprehension. The value of pursuing bad guys vs. terminating chases is strongly debated in the law enforcement community.
There are merits to both views, but the intent of this commentary is not to delve too deeply into the legal, moral, and ethical aspects of chasing bad guys. It is to present a cost-effective training model that addresses two critical aspects of police pursuits for both the officer and his or her agency: policy compliance and decision making for all aspects of a police pursuit.
Although there are plenty of solid training programs that address the physical operation of cruisers in pursuit conditions-such as driving tracks or simulators-it is sometimes difficult for agencies to train all of their personnel in this manner. Due to logistics or budget issues, a department may send only a handful of officers or schedule officers incrementally. Another option is in-house instruction where a department trainer provides pursuit exercises for officers to practice. A lack of suitable open locations to drive or overtime concerns may prohibit this type of training. But due to the critical nature of emergency vehicle operations, agencies need to find ways to keep their officers' driving skills at a high level.
Making sure police officers can drive well is not enough. They must also keep their mental skills just as sharp to follow policy under stress and exercise good judgment throughout the pursuit. It is interesting that the state academy in Ohio offers a course called Pursuit Termination Techniques that teaches officers, among other things, how to use the Precision Immobilization Technique (PIT) and tire deflation devices. These important actions can help effectively stop a pursuit, but what isn't mentioned in the course description is developing the ability to decide whether to pursue. The skill to discern when to begin a pursuit is every bit as important as being able to bring one to a successful resolution.
Set-up and Students
Using existing cruiser cameras or a standard video recorder, a trainer takes videos of officers following various cars driven by other officers or volunteers on local streets and highways. These videos could include the "suspect" vehicles coming to a stop and even involve occupants' actions like fleeing from the vehicle. Videos from actual pursuits involving agency officers can also be used if available. If none are available, an effort should be made to utilize pursuit video from neighboring agencies as their roadways may be familiar to your department.
To simulate the pursuit environment for training purposes, set up two tables, a television (preferably a large screen), a video player, an old radio mic from a cruiser, an out-of-service phone, and an old dispatch radio mic. Officers, dispatchers, and supervisors should participate in the training model as each plays an important role in helping to ensure a safe outcome.
The training begins with a full review of the department's pursuit policy. An officer's compliance with department policy is vital to the success of any police pursuit. Place special emphasis on portions of the policy that address the decision to pursue by the officer. It is during this critical moment that an officer must decide if there are enough elements to begin what may be the most dangerous action this officer will take. The risks are not only high for the officer, but they are particularly serious for the motoring public, as well as the pursued suspect. It is important that the officer's decision be in compliance with allowable pursuit situations.
Sometimes policies are written with general phraseology that doesn't always provide the bright lines that officers or supervisors may prefer. Instead, an officer will have to articulate how specific facts or observations support that initial decision. If an agency doesn't have a policy on pursuits, the officer must apply these same facts and observations with departmental practice and its culture.