06/17/2005

The PoliceOne Mailbag

To Pursue Or Not to Pursue?
PoliceOne Members Answer the Question.

PoliceOne members from across the country sounded off on the hotly debated topic of vehicle pursuits after we posed the question of whether pursuits should be prohibited, restricted or considered an effective means of crime fighting [see To Pursue or Not to Pursue? ]. We want to thank all of you who have shared your comments with us and other PoliceOne members and we invite anyone else who has insight to join this discussion in the PoliceOne forum topic To Pursue or Not to Pursue .

Below is a random sampling of the many responses we received:

Officer Marty Bandvik with San Francisco (CA) PD:

If you asked me this question five or 10 years ago I would never have thought that I would answer it this way, but this past year we changed our pursuit policy list to only include violent felonies and I like it.  You either let the car go or chase it until the doors fall off.  It takes almost all the pressure off the pursing officer.



Officer Doug Chambers with Gwinnett Co. (GA) PD:

I have only been on the road about a year and a half with Gwinnett Co. (GA) PD on I85, one of the busiest departments in the metro Atlanta area.  We have a very strict chase policy that only allows us to chase in situations similar to those identified by Salt Lake City. As much as a 24 -year-old rookie would love to chase, I also see the serious down side. Here in Georgia we have lost officers during pursuits in the past year and seldom does a chase result in anything but one, and usually more, vehicle crashes.


Retired Sgt. Bill Tinsley with Columbia (MO) PD:

Having served in law enforcement for 28 years, I have been in my share of pursuits and as a supervisor, I have been in the position of having to order the termination of pursuits by my subordinates.
 
In general, any felony is worthy of a stop and limited pursuit if officers are trained in emergency driving and pursuit techniques. The key element in a pursuit or decision not to pursue, based on current conditions, has to be a primary decision of the officer and secondly his or her supervisor. 
 
Legal, physical, and mental condition of the street officer has to be evaluated by the supervisor in each case and a decision made to take the onus off of the officer.  I know how much the desire to capture (and it does become a personal issue) predicates the officer's attitude and how easily it is to increase the gas pedal with each rise of the siren. Unfortunately on extremely hot and cold days, when the average motorist is concerned with their comfort and the younger generation is listening to loud music, that siren does not, in many cases, penetrate the consciousness of the other drivers.
 
To make a policy of "NO PURSUITS" does a disservice to the community in general. It will be publicized, so it encourages the offender not to stop when ordinarily they would submit peacefully.


Deputy David Tiller with Mendocino Co. (CA) PD:

Why aren't we as law enforcement lobbying for tougher laws with no plea ability for bad guys who run and place the innocent in danger? As an instructor in the ways of the baton and weaponless defense, I tell my officers and deputies that the bad guy is really in control if you think about it.  If they are told to stop and do, no one gets hurt.  So if THEY CHOOSE to run and place innocents in danger, they should be charged and sent to prison for this behavior. We should not be chewed out and fried in the press for doing our jobs.
 
Why do we accept the liability or allow the press and special interest groups to pressure us into not doing our jobs?
 
Look at what is happening in America and you will see a trend towards giving in to suspects and letting victims and innocents hang.  I say, chase them and then don't let them out of prison for running.  The result, I think, will be fewer fleeing suspects.


Deputy Robert Strahan with Ector Co. (TX) PD:

I have been involved in pursuits that turned out very well and some that turned out very bad, both after continuing and after terminating. I think that a blanket ban on pursuits or basically restricting pursuits out of existence is a poor way to go.  This is the same as saying, "We, as an agency, will respond to only certain crimes because the rest are just too dangerous to investigate or try to stop."

We need to stress that our jobs and the calls we respond to are inherently dangerous. Pursuits are something that officers need to be trained on as much as, or more than, firearms or any use of force. That will hopefully lessen that danger. The training should stress not doing stupid things, which really are what cause the bulk of bad incidents. Things like pursuing at 100 MPH plus and being right on the suspect's bumper, or blowing through traffic control devices and having a line of 10, 20 or more cars following behind, driving like crazy, because they have seen the Sugarland Express too many times.

I have trained many officers in pursuit techniques, and I honestly think that has saved lives in our pursuits. That being said, YES, pursuits are dangerous and pursuits do not always need to happen EVERY time, but a properly trained officer can make that distinction. A policy that does not allow him to make that decision further restricts the officer in an already anti-law enforcement world.


Lt. Duane M. Dawson with Portage Co. (OH) PD:

I'm curious to know whether an officer who observes a vehicle operating recklessly but does not pursue is liable if, after the pursuit is terminated, the subject continues to drive recklessly and causes injury or death?

Our department limits pursuits to 3 cars from our agency and imposes on the supervisor the decision to continue or terminate based on traffic, road conditions, etc. This has worked well for us up to now.


Retired Sgt. Richard Spurgeon with Oklahoma City (OK) PD:

The clear answer is for modern technology to be put in place to disable the engine of the pursued vehicle without damaging a law enforcement vehicle. If science can develop laser radar, they can also come up with the device to disable the electronic system on the pursued vehicle.


Officer Jason Myers with Mentor (OH) PD:

I feel that legislation needs to be changed that would make officer's less liable for injuries to innocent bystanders that resulted from the actions of the offender. Unfortunately, people are injured by violent acts each and every day, assaults, shooting, etc. Legislators should consider how many more people could be injured if a suspect is not apprehended.


Officer Dustin Marantino with Rifle (CO) PD:

A man is waiving a gun around in a public place. No one knows why. No one knows if the gun is loaded or even real. No one knows if he has the ability to operate the gun or if has old enough to even own the gun. What would be the appropriate tactics for dealing with this person? Would law enforcement move in and deal with the guy or back off so the guy will calm down and won't kill anyone?

When a person decides to flee in a vehicle, I don't see the difference. As far as I can see, the fleeing suspect is now engaging in a violent felony. He is attempting to commit an assault with a deadly weapon.

The courts have got it backwards. Cops don't make criminals flee. Criminals choose to flee.


Officer Rodney Archer with West Palm Beach (FL) PD:

If you have done nothing wrong, then why run??? If someone is trying to elude us, then it is for a reason. I think a small offense, be it traffic or otherwise, would not entice an offender to run. Unless, that is, they know we can't pursue them. People who run do it for a reason…a reason worth finding out.


FTO Gary Shilley with Puyallup (WA) PD:

My thoughts on this subject are probably too old school for most new officers out there. I feel we have been, and continue to be, restricted and tied up from doing our job more and more each day. I have observed large departments around me go to basically a no pursuit policy and then the crooks find out how easy it is to get away after committing a crime by just running in a vehicle. All they have to do is run one stop sign or gain some speed and the chase gets immediately terminated.

I have watched the criminals in a neighboring jurisdiction become quickly familiar with the no pursuit philosophy and have actually listened to a subject in a stolen vehicle drive up and down a main street, in the middle of the night, just trying to get officers to chase him. Patrol officers were told by supervisors to leave the area after the suspect drove past them numerous times at a high rate of speed. I find this ridiculous as a police officer and an unacceptable environment to have to work in. Again I know this is the era of civil liability in ridiculous proportions, but we have gone too far to one side to keep from paying out some money. I also feel that if several of the past civil law suits that have taken place over the years had not been settled out of court and just fought through, the precedent would not be so prevalent now. Thanks for letting me vent.


Officer Craig Roberts with Lewiston (ID) PD:

Your article was very interesting to me. The crash in Utah is very sad but we have to remember that the 20-year-old driving the stolen car, suspected of DUI, was the one who started the pursuit, not the police. He made the decision to run instead of stopping as the law requires, so he should be liable for the accident not the police. It goes to show that if some one runs from the police they are probably hiding something bigger than what they are getting stopped for.

I work for an agency that has a pursuit policy very similar to the one discussed in your article. We can only pursue for violent felonies and then only under certain circumstances. Example, we can not pursue juveniles, motorcycles, trucks, etc no matter what the crime. The public knows this and use it to their advantage. I can not count the time I would attempt to stop a known drug user/dealer for a minor traffic infraction such as speed and they simply take off. I have to turn my lights off and wave good bye to them. Then the public wonders why there is a drug problem and the police do nothing about it.

One other pursuit that started in my agency ended in a shooting in another jurisdiction. Officers responded to a man with a gun call. It turns out that a man threatened to kill his family with a shotgun. They watched him load it, chamber a round, and then point it at them. He was found leaving the scene and we attempted to stop him, however he just sped off. A short pursuit was given but was shortly called off the officers due to the fact that out department STRICTLY enforces the pursuit policy and punishment can be severe. The suspect continued his reckless ways, even after the pursuit was terminated, ramming several cars off of the road. The suspect was found by a neighboring agency a short time later and the pursuit started again. The pursuit ended in a lethal confrontation when they cornered him on a dead-end street and he attempted to ram the officers with his vehicle. The suspect was then shot. Had my agency continued the pursuit and ended it with force shortly after it started, the two innocent people he rammed off of the road would be safe and sound along with any other person on the road that he may have rammed just because. Also we put other officers, with families, at risk by not ending our pursuit when we could have it and letting a violent suspect get into their jurisdiction.

There is a time and place for pursuits. We are all highly trained professionals entrusted to make major decisions every day. No policy can cover ever scenario. I believe the decision should be made by to officer who started the pursuit based upon the facts and conditions known to him at the time.

Thank you for listening. Keep up the good work.


Capt. Pete Chambers with the Crisp County (GA) SO:

It is my personal opinion that policies that strictly prohibit pursuit are "knee-jerk" reactions to an issue which is so complex that debates continue to rage daily.

I am personally opposed to policies which prohibit pursuit. I do feel that such policies will only serve as notice to criminals that "If you commit another crime (attempting to elude), you have a better chance of getting away with your first crime."

While I am against "blanket" No-Pursuit Policies, at the same time I must also agree that there are times where all of us (LEOs) must exercise sound judgment and be more willing to terminate a pursuit. I am not trying to "ride the fence" on this issue, but acknowledge and strongly agree that risking death or injury to others in some cases cannot be justified.

Rather than supporting policies which out-right ban all pursuits, I suggest what is needed is more training for all LEOs concerning pursuits. While most states mandate some form of emergency vehicle operations training at the recruit level, this is an area of training which needs to be constantly provided to all personnel authorized to operate an emergency vehicle, at least on an annual basis.

Officers need to be provided with information, tactics and practical experience which better prepares them for the time(s) they will have to make the decision to pursue, not pursue, or terminate a pursuit. Unfortunately, for too long our profession made it "unacceptable" to lose a pursuit. The public and media also contributed to this stigma. Just take a look at television shows and box office movies and how they so often portrayed the officers who always seemed to loose a pursuit as incompetent (Dukes of Hazard, Smokey & The Bandit, Cannon Ball Run, etc.)

We are starting to realize that and accept that the decision to terminate a pursuit by the initiating officer is not a sign of failure but rather a great example of discretion. We need to further promote this concept to all officers young and old alike.

As to the debate still rages on I would propose that this topic would be a great one to be professionally studied by a group such as FSRC. What happened in the jurisdictions where pursuits have been banned? Is there an increase in violators' attempting to elude? What number of violators apprehended by pursuit have reasons other that the initial basis for the stop (wanted persons, stolen vehicles, etc.)?

If we as a profession are going to debate this issue lets get some solid data to use rather than emotions, one-sided reporting, or personal opinion.

Additional responses from P1 members.

The Pursue or Not to Pursue Forum Topic

Join discussion on this topic with other PoliceOne members by visiting the To Pursue or Not to Pursue topic in the PoliceOne forums.

Related Story:

To Pursue Or Not To Pursue…That is the Question

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