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.[PAGEBREAK]
Interacting With Videos
Another technological innovation came in the late 1980s in the form of interactive computer-based video training. This system, which utilizes laser discs, computer graphics and branching scenarios, promised consistent training for officers at locations without formal training facilities; it also provided another medium for existing training centers. Financed by POST, the system's courseware was also developed by POST, the SMEs of the driver training committee, and the private firm, General Physics.
In 1993, POST reimbursed every law enforcement agency in California that purchased the hardware needed for the course. At the same time, agencies were also eligible for reimbursement for a satellite dish system to receive broadcasts-or "telecourses"-from POST. These telecourses, which covered a variety of topics developed by law enforcement experts, were broadcast for viewing, recording and dissemination at the agency's convenience.
To make classroom learning more effective, POST began investigating "smart classrooms," which featured computer-based training. These presentations were delivered by LCD projection televisions and allowed student input via individual keypads. San Bernardino County again took the lead by purchasing two complete classrooms and a design station for their EVOC Training Center, pioneering the use of this technology in law enforcement nationwide.
At Your Fingertips
This system, called Respondex, took all of the traditional audio-visual aids used by instructors and put them into a single learning tool. Slides, overheads, charts, graphs, text, animation, narration, music, board work, sketches-anything an instructor could want-was available at their fingertips via a remote control.
When a segment needs to be reviewed, it can be cued by the computer, thus creating a seamless presentation.
Respondex was originally designed for the U.S. Naval Academy and has since been marketed throughout the country. An important component is the keypad feature, which requires the student to answer questions at key learning points during the presentation. The computer tabulates the answers and presents them by percentages on the screen, utilizing a bar chart, for immediate feedback to the instructor.
This system has increased the retention rate of material by 20 percent in 20 percent less time. POST has provided a grant to Santa Rosa College to purchase and evaluate a classroom like the one in San Bernardino.
It's clear that California law enforcement has not been sitting this one out and has actively been addressing the issue of pursuit driving for many years. But one primary problem in this area is refresher training for officers after they've graduated from the academy.
The problem is that driver training is very expensive, good facilities are few and training dollars are short. While inroads are being made, only mandatory refresher training on a regular basis will ensure that California's officers are properly equipped to meet today's and tomorrow's driving problems.
Confronting Problems In-House
As the problems became evident and legislation was passed to provide a safer environment during pursuits, California was already in the mode of dealing with these issues head-on. When V.C. 17004.7 was passed, most of the issues raised were already being taught in all POST-approved classes; the curriculum was already written and implemented into the courses.
Likewise, when Penal Code 13519.8 was passed in 1994, almost every item addressed in the legislation was already being taught and had been included in many policies statewide. There is room for improvement, but this is a topic that is on the minds of la w enforcement.
In 1989, the California State Legislature helped law enforcement by granting agencies exemption from civil suits arising from third-party pursuit crashes. In other words, if the suspect being chased crashed, the agency could not be held civilly liable for the actions of the suspect.
Some very significant strings went along with the exemption, however, in the form of minimum standards that had to be adopted in the exempted agency's pursuit policies. These exemptions and standards are covered in section 17004.7 of the vehicle code. The intent of this legislation was to have more agencies tighten their pursuit policies in exchange for this immunity.
California law enforcement agencies are continually updating their pursuit policies and procedures in order to better protect the public, their officers and the public entity. New laws, court cases, current events, new ideas and better training are usually the motivating factors for reviewing policies and procedures.
Several agencies have even written very restrictive policies, including those in Santa Monica. Fresno. Berkeley. Daly City. Hillsborough and Riverside County, to name a few. Restrictions include everything from chasing only dangerous felons to allowing no pursuits at all.
The majority of agencies have updated their policies to meet the mandates of CVC 17004.7. These agencies allow pursuits. but hold lhe officers and supervisors much more accountable for their actions. Unquestionably, this has resulted in fewer pursuits being initiated, more pursuits being canceled, and less danger to the public and the officers.
Moving Through the Legal System
In 1994, the California Legislature adopted Penal Code 13519.8, which directed POST to develop minimum guidelines for pursuit policies as well as a training course for all officers. The intent of this legislation was to establish minimum guidelines for all law enforcement agencies to implement into their pursuit policies.
Pc. 13519.8 also states that the Commission on POST must develop a training curriculum to get this information to every peace officer in California who received training prior to the implementation of the law.
Those officers who have had training prior to that date who meet all the mandates will probably be "grandfathered." or exempted from the training mandate.
The minimum training requirements are two hours for patrol and supervisory personnel, and one hour for those in higher positions. This training is in the process of being prepared in a POST telecourse and is scheduled for broadcast sometime in February or March1996. The law also encourages follow up training, but makes no mandates and gives no time frames.
The success of this endeavor, like so many others, depends upon a succession of events. When all officers have received this first training-whether it be the telecourse alone or as a part of a more complete driver training course-they will have only, been given the information that all agencies must use to develop their individual policies.
This is good information, since it will list virtually all the considerations. And each agency has the option to choose from these elements in their written policies-depending on the specific mission of the agency. It's geographic location and community need. to list a few. After each agency has digested this information and has a policy that it believes meets the standard two other steps must follow:
- Step One-This is the proper training of that policy to members of the department. This training should be in a format that ensures the understanding by all members, and the knowledge that the administration is in full support of the contents.
- Step Two-The supervisors must ensure that the policy is followed. There must be personal accountability on the part of the officers and of the supervisors who set the tone for the field operations of the department. This is up to the supervisors and the officers themselves. The best compliance is voluntary, but in the real world that is not always the case.
The bottom line is this: Agencies that set policies and procedures on vehicle pursuits-and properly disseminate that information down the lines through proper training-will save lives, reputations and win the respect of the community.
Lt. Forrest Billington, a 28-year veteran of the San Bernardino (Calif.) County Sheriff's Department, serves as the Commander of the Emergency Vehicle Operations (EVOC) Training Center. He is also a law enforcement consultant, expert witness and a member of the POLICE advisory board.