PURSUIT DRIVING: One Officer's View

Not too many years ago a 17-year-old drove his newly purchased motorcycle by me at 60 mph. Given that the speed limit was 40 mph and I was a traffic unit, my next actions were routine. I pulled in behind the youngster, activated my unit’s emergency lights and called in the stop to radio. The youngster, who had purchased the motorcycle without his parents’ knowledge and against their wishes, decided he was not going to stop. After all, if he received a citation, his parents would find out about the motorcycle he was storing at his older brothers’ house, and the defecation would most assuredly permeate the air conditioning. Well, we were off to the races at 90 mph or so. He was driving way over his head, and quite honestly, so was I. “Junior” started around a corner and “R.O.O.T.ed” – “ran out of talent.” He crossed the centerline, jumped the curb and hit a fire hydrant. He was propelled over the handlebars and landed on his head just in time for the motorcycle to catch up and land on him.“Junior” went from “suspect” to “victim” at that moment. He was a victim of his own stupidity. I called in the accident and started CPR. “Junior” was transported to an ICU unit, and despite everyone’s efforts, died three days later on his 18th birthday. His parents did what they could to make a terrible situation better. They donated their son’s organs.Pursuits are inherently dangerous. Most of the time we do not know why a suspect is running. We cannot control what the suspect is going to do, nor do we have any control over the road conditions or any of the other variables.If you approached a group of professional race car drivers and asked them to participate in a road race which had no rules, cross traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, and other non-race participants on the course, which was never designed for race conditions, and then told them that the grand prize to the winner was that they survived, how many of them would volunteer to be in the race?Well folks, that’s what we do. We go out in a car, not designed for racing, on a course, not designed for racing, with a bunch of folks in the way (John and Jane Q citizen) who seem to have difficulty seeing much beyond their hood ornament, let alone having 360 degree awareness, then we chase an idiot who doesn’t care what happens as long as he or she gets away. Then those same folks whom we protect and serve sit on the jury at the civil trial when the “knuckle-head” we were chasing “ROOT’s” and kills or injures someone. Since “knuckle-head” never has any money, the aggrieved party sues our agency and us. Sadly, the same folks who asked us to protect them, arrest the bad guy and “do the right thing” vote to punish us for doing what it was they asked us to do.There have been studies, policies, court decisions, lawsuits and lots of media coverage. Everyone has an opinion as to when law enforcement should pursue and when we need to back out. Some of the lesser-informed agencies have instituted a “no pursuit policy” and guess what happens? The citizens learn they can drive any damned way they want and when law enforcement tries to stop them, they just need to drive recklessly and then cops will go away.How about this for a solution or at least a partial solution? How about the next time the news is recording a police chase, the cops “P.I.T.” (Pursuit Intervention Technique), arrest the bad guy and haul him to court? Then right on T.V., the judge stares into the crook’s eyes and sentences him to life without parole, instead of the usual infraction conviction and a couple of hundred dollars fine.Accountability for pursuits need to run both ways. Law enforcement is increasingly being held “accountable” but the crooks sure are not. When should you pursue, when should you back out of a pursuit, and who should call it off? Good question! I can tell you one thing for sure. Before you enter your next “race”, assess what is at stake and what it might cost you, your family, the public and your agency if things go bad. Me, I chased a lot of folks, took a lot of bad guys to jail, some to the hospital, and a couple to the morgue. When the crook went, it did not bother me too much. When an uninvolved citizen was hurt, it did. I was not working the night one of my fellow officers died in a pursuit, but I can tell you something, everyone was affected by his death.My advice, for what it’s worth: Be as reasonable as you can in a very unreasonable situation. Understand those who will judge you after the accident, will do so in the comfort of their offices, homes and courtrooms. They will have all of the benefits of 20-20 hindsight, coupled with their most sincere instincts to protect themselves and pass on the blame.Do what you have to do to keep the streets safe, but remember, you can only do so much on any given night. If you do not catch the bad guy today, you’ll likely as not see him tomorrow (and maybe you can sneak up on him, I love doing that!).

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