Chases among 'most dangerous' parts of job, Calif. chief says
1 in 5 pursuits end in a crash in California's Coachella Valley, and a mix of department policy and personal judgment comes into play when undertaking pursuits
By PoliceOne Staff
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A California newspaper released an analysis of police pursuits — an almost hourly occurrence in the state and an important but dangerous part of police work.
After Cathedral City police officer Jermaine Gibson was killed in March while pursuing a speeding Mustang, The Desert Sun launched a six-month investigation to obtain chase and crash data and pursuit policies from local police agencies and the California Highway Patrol.
Pursuits are a “critical concern for law enforcement,” Larry Gaines, chairman of the criminal justice department at California State University, San Bernardino said. They pose safety risks to officers and civilians, so police administrators should constantly revisit their pursuit policies and how well they're enforced.
The policies of various departments in the Coachella Valley area can be viewed to the left, and in the video below, scenes from scripted and real-life police chases are featured in training excerpts produced by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The Desert Sun's report says the following should be considered during a pursuit:
What am I chasing him for?
Some departments have policies in place that determine who they can pursue.
The Palm Desert Sheriff’s Department only pursues suspected drunken drivers and felons, Palm Desert station commander Capt. Dan Wilham said, marking a radical change from several years ago.
“When I started in the department 26 years ago, it didn't matter what the violation was,” Wilham said. “If we turned on our overheads and somebody hit the accelerator instead of the brake, we chased them.”
Assessing when to pursue
“My suggestion is always ‘Don't pursue unless it's a violent crime,'” said Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor who serves on an advisory board for the Chico-based group Voices Insisting on Pursuit Safety.
Cathedral City Police Chief Kevin Conner disagrees.
A pursuit that starts with a minor infraction often uncovers the car’s involvement in a more serious crime, he said, and restrictions might prevent these discoveries — as well as take away an officer’s discretion.
Ending the chase
It lists chases as the No. 5 leading cause of death for officers in the state.
Officers can end pursuits at any moment. Across California, officers call off chases about 11 percent of the time.
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