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Pursuit Training on the Cheap

Practicing how to handle fleeing cars doesn't always require an expensive simulator.

November 30, 2009  |  by Tom Wetzel

Focus on the officer as he or she reports the conditions involved with the pursuit, such as the type of violations that led to the attempt to stop the vehicle, road conditions, and traffic. If your policy doesn't require an officer to provide this information, consider including it. This intelligence could help a supervisor decide whether to override an officer's decision to pursue.

After a review of the policy, the officer sits in front of a television with a radio mic to simulate the officer's cruiser mic. The dispatcher and supervisor sit at another table with a radio mic taped to the table and a telephone. The dispatcher/supervisor table should be angled away from the video being observed by the officer to allow the dispatcher to rely only on radio traffic during the exercise.

After a brief introduction of the scenario by the trainer, the video is shown to the officer. Scenarios could range from minor traffic violations to armed robbery suspects fleeing a scene. Of particular importance is the officer's decision of whether to pursue or when to stop based on the circumstances provided by the trainer. If a decision is made to pursue, the officer begins radio transmission to the dispatcher related to the observed video, including locations, descriptions, license plate information, and reasons for the attempt to stop the vehicle.

The dispatcher responds to the officer's radio transmissions, handles responsibilities per policy or protocol, and practices operating the phones to advise other agencies of the officer's pursuit. The supervisor listens and oversees the pursuit. The supervisor may interject where needed, such as an attempt to solicit information from the officer that she or he may not be relaying to dispatch or to advise the officer to stop the pursuit due to the conditions involved.

As the pursuit continues, the officer watches the driving actions of the suspect and continues to radio the information to dispatch. By using video from the agency's city or county, the officer should be able to recognize streets and relay that information to the dispatcher. Also, if the suspect driver or occupants act a certain way within the vehicle, the officer should radio these observations, as well. Actions from the driver or occupants could include tossing possible evidence from a window or drawing a weapon from inside the vehicle.

The trainer can add information during the pursuit that may change how the officer proceeds. If high velocity weapons are observed, the officer may set his cruiser much farther back on the highway, make himself a smaller target within the cruiser, and begin variations in his driving pattern. Actively explaining actions based on the circumstances is one of the benefits of this training as it makes the officers think about what they are doing and why.

Like a Table Top Exercise

If a scenario has the suspect vehicle come to a stop, the officer will advise the trainer what his actions would be at that point. Possibilities could include setting up for a high-risk traffic stop or pursuing after a suspect that flees on foot. If one occupant runs while others stay in the car, the officer provides a description of the suspect for other units while he maintains cover on the vehicle.

This portion of the training is similar to table top training exercises where the participant describes how the situation should be handled from tactical, geographical, and logistical perspectives. It would be beneficial to have a city/county map available to enable an officer to outline how his or her perimeter should be set up after a suspect(s) flees. Directing how the action should proceed also allows officers to demonstrate leadership capabilities.


After each scenario, the trainer will discuss the actions of the participants and obtain feedback from them. It is a good opportunity to determine whether the right decisions were made and how well each participant complied with policy and their responsibilities during the scenario. The officer is evaluated on his or her decision making, compliance with departmental policy, and radio operations while dispatchers are evaluated on their compliance with policy, along with the operation of the radio and phone. The supervisor is evaluated on policy compliance, as well as his overall decision to allow a pursuit to continue.

Training Value

The dangers and stress from the emergency operation of police vehicles in a pursuit is an important matter for police officers, their agencies, and the public, especially those operating on the street at the same time. Officers are required to negotiate cruisers safely in all types of road and weather conditions while simultaneously watching the subject vehicle, operating the cruiser, and radioing information. It is important that they demonstrate strong driving skills, good judgment, and understand their agency's expectations of them during a police pursuit. This relatively inexpensive training model can provide some important instruction and practice on the decision-making, policy compliance, and radio operations for police pursuits. 

Tom Wetzel is a northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant, SWAT officer, trainer, and certified law enforcement executive.

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