Calling the Chase

Whenever we hear a well-called pursuit, we are in awe of it. We know that it's a damn difficult thing to accomplish.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

Breaching doors can be a pain in the ass. Scaling fences can tear the hell out of your uniform pants. Ground declivities can cause you to twist your ankle or tweak your knee.

But when I think back on the difficulties of the job, one of the hardest things an officer can do is coordinate a well-called vehicle pursuit.


Just imagine all the things the officer has to juggle in his mind simultaneously. For one, he has to have justification for the pursuit, which—let's face it—sometimes comes down to articulation and attribution of motive (do you think that more than one patrol officer has characterized a simple u-turn as an assault on him? I wonder…).

He also has to play devil's advocate against his natural inclination to chase: Do I really have any business continuing this pursuit, given the prospective liability that I may expose myself and my employer to?

As part of this decision-making process—and for ancillary reasons, as well—she is continually re-evaluating the lay of the land, keeping an eye out for all manner of possible x-factors that might come into play: little old ladies, big dumb kids, oblivious fellow motorists.

Throughout, officers are expected to key the mic and give up-to-the-second updates as to where they're at and what's happening. As if this isn't difficult enough, they then have to compete for air time with clueless fellow officers who step on their radio traffic, asking them to repeat information that becomes dated with each repetition.

Perhaps that is why whenever we hear a well-called pursuit, we are in awe of it. We know that it's a damn difficult thing to accomplish.

Trial by Fire

I have been in, or been vicariously exposed to, all manner of vehicle pursuits called through the years. Some have been short ("I'm in purs…" CRASH!). Some have gone on for hours, well outside of jurisdictions and beyond radio transmitter capacities. I have seen great cops humbled, and less obvious candidates suddenly ascend to greatness.

Police agencies have general guidelines on information that is required for calling a pursuit. A vast majority even have some manner of pursuit training on the track, in simulated environments, or some combination thereof.

But the reality is something else, and nothing can approximate the adrenaline rush that comes with the real thing. Knowing this is why whenever we hear some Iceman calmly transmit not only what is expected, but more, and do so while under the most arduous of conditions—even while getting shot at—it becomes something more than a mere pursuit. It becomes a work of art.

With that in mind, here's some food for thought on the matter of calling pursuits.

Be Prepared

Know that the more you are prepared for a pursuit, the better off you'll be on multiple fronts, for your listening audience can be varied. Among your listeners are your peers, the most critical of audiences, evaluating your ability to keep your cool and do what's expected. Your audience includes your watch commander, evaluating whether or not to let you stay in it. It includes lawyers, salivating at the prospect that you were chasing someone who should have been let go, or were yourself over-driving for your skills.

Be Flexible

Remember to be flexible. If you're joined by another unit (and have faith in their ability), have them or an aero unit call the pursuit. It'll be that much easier for you to keep track of what you need to do while following the perp. Also, the eye in the sky may have an easier time coordinating containments should the pursuit go into a ground containment.

Don't Stay in the Fast Lane

Keep in mind that when pursuits go to freeways, suspects will often gravitate to the "fast lane" (number one lane). If traffic conditions permit, try to trail him in the number two or three lane. This will buy you a split second in response time should he suddenly switch across all lanes of traffic and take an off-ramp (a lesson learned by yours truly the hard way).

Know Your Roadways

Know your roadways. If the driver gets on an unpaved road and dirt and debris obscure your field of vision, back off. Obviously he's leaving an alternate trail for you to follow, and if he turns onto a paved roadway, that will become evident soon enough. If he does make turns, makes sure that you advise of the fact either before or after you negotiate that turn yourself: Don't hamstring your ability to steer by transmitting while you're in the middle of a turning movement.

Communicate Effectively

If you know an area that might be conducive for spike strip deployment, advise fellow units. If you're approaching another department's jurisdiction, make sure that your desk advises the concerned agency. Should it become a multi-jurisdictional pursuit, ensure that communications are made in plain English—abandon the various radio codes that are all too often unique to particular agencies.

Know Your Vehicle Limitations

Know your vehicle limitations. While soaring gas prices have probably taken more than one Chevy Tahoe out of the field, I suspect there are still a few in the hunt. Tahoes are great for keeping the high ground and letting you see what's out ahead of you. But their wheel bases don't lend themselves to the sharpest of turns. I know if I was Joe Dirtbag, I'd make quite a few hairpin turns to get a Tahoe off my tail. If trying to keep up with continual updates of succeeding street signs doesn't get you, perhaps centrifugal force will.

Transmitting a well-called pursuit has collateral benefits. It allows you to set the tone for what follows, both during and after the pursuit. When you take the lead and establish control, you can exert that control once the suspect vehicle has crashed, yielded, or has otherwise come to a stop. This can prevent the needless ass-kickings of suspects (by cops) and cops (by one another).

Finally, just remember that when it comes to pursuits: If you can't call it, then perhaps you should call it off.

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Author Dean Scoville Headshot
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