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Code Three: Lights, Sirens, Action


April 17, 2000
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Code Three: Lights, Sirens, Action

I work for a department with about 90 patrol officers. The current policy for code three driving with emergency lights and siren sounding at all times requires that the watch commander be notified of the code three status of the unit. The watch commander assumes responsibility to monitor the call and either discontinue the code three operation or allow it to continue depending on the incident. Our department has had several recent accidents involving patrol cars operating in a code three status. None of the accidents were the result of the officer driving code three. All the accidents were either attributable to an error on the part of the officer in clearing an intersection, judging speed in a turn or the failure of a citizen motorist to obey the law which in this state is to pull to the right side of the road and stop instead of driving into the side of a patrol car while it is operating with lights and sirens. I have no problem with this policy, but many of us are frustrated by the restrictive and arbitrary denial by commanding officers to allow officers to respond to code three calls. I work with many officers who are EMT’s or full paramedics and many of us are trained with and carry portable defibrillators. Despite these facts, our department does not allow us to roll code three to medical calls we are dispatched to, and we are only dispatched to the medical or “man down” calls if they occur in a public area. There are many situations that warrant a code three response, despite the inherent dangers on these operations. In my opinion there are two kinds of code three operations that we should participate in.HIGH SPEED PURSUITS Pursuit driving is a mandated course and is great in teaching the finer points of high speed driving and vehicle control. As we all know, vehicle pursuits are very dangerous to the officers engaged in the pursuit as well as the offender and the public who are unfortunate enough to be in the area of the pursuit. On numerous occasions I have elected to shut down a pursuit because the offense did not warrant the danger to me or the public. As we all know, if you or the offender crash, lawsuits and Monday morning quarterbacking is the norm. The second kind of code three operation is simply lights and siren response to a call. This lights and siren response is not necessarily to go fast. It’s to clear traffic to allow a faster response to a life threatening or other dangerous situation which is presently occurring such as fights in progress, medical calls, stabbings, gunshot wounds, etc. What I see happening is the administrators in law enforcement and politicians who are involved in making policy are failing to see the difference in the two distinct types of code three operation of a police vehicle. I agree that police pursuits of vehicles should be very limited, supervised, coordinated and warrant the immense danger and liability. On the other hand, when it is important to get to the scene of a dangerous or life threatening incident, it goes against every instinct of a well- trained and caring officer if he or she is forced to sit in a traffic jam, drive in heavy traffic at a snail's pace and stop and wait at every red light while someone is in need of help now. Think of this scenario. You are getting beaten up by several people. Some good citizen calls 911 and reports the incident. Dispatch puts out the call. The officer responding is only about four city blocks away. Question: Do you want the responding officer to use his lights and sirens to clear traffic and respond as quickly and safely as he can? Or, do you want to wait while the officer sits in traffic, waits for every green light and uses no lights or sirens to expedite his arrival to save you? Change the scenario. You are having a heart attack. It's a bad one. You have only minutes or less to get help. Your family calls 911 and fire and ambulance are dispatched but they are 3-4 minutes away. Would you want to wait for fire and ambulance to get there or would you take the first trained law enforcement officer who has training in CPR and has a defibrillator to assist you if he could get there first and provide care until paramedics arrive? Of course you would take the first responder. But what if he was either not dispatched or was not allowed to roll code three for fear of someone crashing? I am interested in other agency’s policies on this subject. If you have any comments or suggestions, please E-Mail me at JS8801@aol.com The writer is a police officer in California.




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