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July 27, 2005
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Scott Buhrmaster Topics & Tactics for Law Enforcement
with Scott Buhrmaster

To pursue or not to pursue…that is the question

Have some thoughts about pursuit policy? Tell us what they are in the P1 forums.

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. 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.


I'm a Town Marshal in a small town just outside Indianapolis. Our departments policy is to only pursue when you have a known felon. But I feel that if you make a no pursuit policy, that you will invite teenagers and any other thrill seekers to tease and torment police across the nation with this no pursuit policy.

You will have these people engaging in running from the police for fun. This topic is a definite soar spot in the public eye, but we can not give into the criminals and other thrill seekers.

Eric Mohr
Lizton Police Department


There is no disputing that pursuits are a very dangerous part of our job, both, for the officers and the innocent people that are brought into them. If a department chooses to allow pursuits, it must be a policy that clearly outlines the conditions that an officer may pursue another vehicle. Because it is unreasonable to outline every possible pursuit scenario in the policy, it is that unwritten portion or “gray area” of the policy that is left up to interpretation and requires the most monitoring.

We have learned officers involved in a pursuit are often burdened with having to make too many instant decisions regarding their immediate safety and the safety of the citizens that may be involved. When you factor in the officer’s training and instincts of wanting to catch people that run from them, a policy that requires an uninvolved supervisor to monitor a pursuit is the most logical answer. Their role is mainly to evaluate the circumstances surrounding the pursuit and objectively decide if the gain is worth the risk.

No matter what the circumstances are surrounding the pursuit (minor traffic offense or a homicide suspect), the pursuing officer must advise the monitoring supervisor over their radio certain information (location; vehicle description; want; speed; traffic conditions) to “paint a picture” for the supervisor so they can better understand what the pursuing officer is faced with. Having that information, it will then be up to the supervisor to make an objective decision to allow the pursuit to continue or cancel the pursuit.

These requirements of the policy are designed partly for the officers to develop a consistent response to a very potentially dangerous issue. If it becomes part of their subconscious routine to follow the guidelines, they will be better prepared to do their job under the most stressful of conditions without having to consciously think about it.

P1 Member


I think the Salt Lake City Sheriff and others who are adopting no-pursuit policies are making a big mistake. True, theses policies may encourage some suspects to run that may otherwise stop. But more importantly, I feel that they are turning their back on our basic mission of service to the public through apprehension of criminals and lawbreakers. They are basically abandoning their responsibilities, because of what could happen--or merely because this is the politically correct position to take, at least for now. If we are to fulfill our mission to serve and protect, we simply can't do that.

This does not mean that I favor carte-blanche freedom to pursue. There are certain circumstances--such as adverse weather conditions, and locations--such as school zones, hospitals, and college campuses--where pursuits must be limited or even forbidden. There are other situations where one must consider pursuit in context of the violation. Engaging in a high speed pursuit for a minor equipment or registration violation is clearly inappropriate. In highly congested areas, limitations or even prohibitions on pursuits, especially for minor traffic charges, are clearly justified.

However, I feel very strongly that we have an obligation to attempt apprehension of suspects whenever it is feasible to do so. For example, auto theft may be considered "just a property crime," but in many cases, stealing a person's car threatens their livelihood, and that of their family as well. With no car, the majority of Americans can't get to work. We have to do more than just let these thugs drive away. Few car theives stop at just one car !

Whenever we engage in a pursuit, we must be mindful of the possibility of the injuries or deaths that could result. It is incumbent upon us to be prepared to terminate it where this becomes the most prudent alternative. However, it is vital that we not accept responsibility for the actions of those who violate the law by attempting to evade and elude police--despite the best efforts of those who would shift the responsibility away from those who deserve. It is also vital that we not back down from our basic responsibilities.

Be careful, everyone.

Michael Canny


This is a very good poll topic. From my short time as a police officer (6 years) I believe and have witnessed that once you initiate a vehicle stop, if the suspect flees from you it does not matter if you continue or not. The suspect will run all out until his febal mind thinks that no one is chasing, which could be 1 mile to 30 miles down the road. I believe in pursuing and it should be both the supervisor and the officers call to stop or not, since he has the better picture of the situation.

I have heard about all the bad publicity surrounding pursuits, but I ask one question. What will happen when no officer is allowed to chase because of liberal policies, will anyone stop then?

P1 Member


Rather than handcuff officers trying to do their jobs governments should place the burden of fault and liability on the runners in pursuits. Criminal penalties for fleeing should be so onerous that if it doesn't deter someone from running they get so much prison time that they won't be able run from police for a long time. Lifetime bans on driving privileges would be nice too. Lets stop blaming police and blame the criminals who risk everyone's lives, including ours.

P1 Member


I do not believe in having a written no pursuit policy. I agree with the comment that it makes fleeing more appealing, which in return will also danger the lives of innocent bystanders by allowing the criminal to escape. The state of Indiana states that an officer is to pay due regard for the safety of civilians at all times, this includes during pursuits. I am not against terminating pursuits when circumstances warrant it. I believe that liability is present whether you pursue a criminal or you choose not to pursue. If someone is injured during a pursuit your liable, if you choose not to pursue and the criminal escapes then hurts someone your liable for not apprehending them when you had them in sight. Better training and tactics is the answer. There is not a perfect answer to either choice.

Sincerely,

Richie Tucker, Deputy Chief of Police
Winchester Indiana Police Department


I am sick, tired and saddened that we have to even have a debate on this subject. Why on earth should we have to justify chasing bad guys. Police administrators and elected officials need to stand up for us and put the onus of responsibility back on to those who flee, whether it is a traffic violator or a murder suspect. If the media and the politicians can tell me how I am supposed to know that the person fleeing from me is "just a traffic violator" instead of a murder suspect I'll be more than happy to stop my pursuit. Wait a minute, NO I WON'T and I shouldn't. The person fleeing is still breaking the law, in my presence, and needs to be chased down, apprehended and forced to serve time....lots of time.

Sgt. Scott Anderson
Maywood (CA) P.D.


Fleeing from an officer is an unlawful act just like selling drugs and residential burglary. No pursuit policies are an un-lawful order restricting officers from enforcing the law that the legislative branch deemed necessary to enact in order to preserve the peace. Of course officers are responsible for their conduct during these pursuits and they should not try to be super-heroes and go beyond their limits but, they are not responsible for the conduct of the offenders.

In your related article the offender was driving under the influence of intoxicants. He was violating the law and put himself and other drivers at risk. He wrecked because he was intoxicated. Officers were duty bound to attempt to apprehend him. The accident is a direct result of his actions alone. There is no mention that a police unit caused or was involved in the accident due to a disregard to safety.

The accident has nothing to do with the officers. They should be commended for doing their job. The offender is obligated to pay for damages both monetarily and by a surrender of his liberty. Next policy: officers can no longer attempt to stop vehicles they believe are being operated under the influence of intoxicants because the driver may flee.

Lieutenant 15 years of service
Arkansas


I am a County Police Officer who works for a mid size Sheriff's Office in the state of Maryland. Out in my jurisdiction the Sheriff's Office is the county police and we recently went to a very limited police pursuit policy. Actually, you mine as well call it a no police pursuit policy, because you are very limited on what you can pursue for. I fell this is the worst thing that can happen to law enforcement. But like standard operating procedures, lets bow down to the criminals and its all about blaming someone else.

Lets blame the police for chasing, but lets not worry about the scum bag that just committed the crime. Once word gets out that the police don't chase its all over for us. We lost control and the criminals will run the streets. That's how it is, end of story. How about blaming the criminal for running in the first place?

If the criminal wasn't running then there would be no chase and innocent people would not get hurt. Are police chases dangerous? Yes, of course they are! Is Police work dangerous. Yes, to that as well. That's what the job entails. Dangerous situations.

Law enforcement officers are trained professions, so let them do there jobs and catch the bad guys. During vehicle pursuits do innocent bystanders sometimes get hurt. That answer is yes, how unfortunate. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Do solders die every day in war. Yet there still fighting, because that is what they do. People get hurt and that is sad. But blame the scum bag who's fault it is for the possible injuries THEY caused. And it's not the police.

Police have a hard enough job to do. Don't restrict them even more. When is society going to except responsibility for there actions and not the police for reacting? The more restrictions you place on police the less work you will get from them and crime will be on a rise. Maybe that is what we as law enforcement officers really want. After all, no crime equals no job. Strange but true. Bad idea to end police pursuits.

Deputy Eric Goodman


Changing policies to restrict pursuits, unless a violent felon in involved, may on the surface sound like a good idea. However the problem is cops don’t know who their pulling over prior to the stop. Wasn’t Timothy McVeigh stopped for a minor traffic infraction? The mindset, of most cops, has always been that if the driver isn’t involved in something serious he wouldn’t be running. The act of running from the police naturally heightens their level of suspicion. What starts out as a minor traffic infraction now becomes a felony, in many jurisdictions, just by the act of running alone.

The result of this is that the police do in fact only chase felons. The problem of the dangers surrounding police pursuits needs to be addressed, but the ultimate blame, and responsibility, for what happens needs to be focused where it rightfully belongs, on the suspect not on the officers involved. Rarely do veteran officers wish to become involved in high speed pursuits.

Maybe rookies see them as exciting, but as you get older and hopefully wiser you realize the gravity of the situation. Officers pursue because they believe the person they are trying to stop must present a serious threat to the safety of the public or they would not be trying so hard to get away? It is our duty to protect from what we know to be an ongoing danger. A dangerous and felonious act committed against the public at large. An individual driving a car erratically at high speed through a populated area is essentially the same as a crazed man running through the streets with a gun. No, he hasn’t shot anyone, yet, but can we just let him continue until he does? I don’t think so.

If we engage in a pursuit and an innocent citizen is injured there will be an outcry from the public, how could the police cause this to happen? If we let the man run through the streets and some one gets shot there will be an outcry from the public, why did the police not stop this from happening? The problem lies with the person who started it. The person who ran, who did not stop, who failed to obey the law. Outside some egregious irresponsible violation of policy, training and the law by the officer involved there is only one person responsible for what happens in a police pursuit and that is the criminal who the police protecting society from.

Officer Matt Szady
Pima Community College Police Department
Tucson, AZ


One of the problems with many departments regarding pursuits is that they have no means to actually stop a fleeing vehicle. Such as spikes, officers trained to actually hit the fleeing vehicle to get it to stop and so on. I feel that this it self creates a liability when pursuing. If an agency is to get sued for a vehicle pursuit and they are asked what their plan was and all they can say is that we follow with lights and siren and…………. Well what’s the plan to actually try to stop the vehicle from fleeing before innocent people are hurt or killed? Pursuits need to allowed.

How may simple traffic violation pursuits have actually turned out to have been a major crime discovery when the suspects are apprehended? I would say that there have been many more than the ones that just have someone fleeing over a suspended license. How would one feel if a pursuit is terminated only to find out later that a little girl that had been just kidnapped and was in the car and later found sexually assaulted and dead? Officers properly trained in pursuit driving tactics and equipped properly need to be allowed to do their job.

At one time being frustrated by hearing officers told to terminate a chase I took an informal poll of “undesirable” people on my beat. I asked them what they would do if they knew that the police could not chase them if they ran in a vehicle. The answer was the same from all of them, “I would run. “ Logic demands that we apprehend criminals or criminals will own our society.

J. O’Toole
Louisville (KY) Metro Police


I've worked for three police agencies over the years. The first and current have the same pursuit policies. The policy is that we can chase for felonies, DUI, hit & run with injuries, and assault on a police officer. The second department I worked for had a zero pursuit policy.

I believe that limiting officers to zero pursuit policy puts the public at risk of having individuals that have no regard for the law on the road with them. If someone does not stop for the police, who knows that their intentions are going to be when they reach a civilian. A limited pursuit policy such as the one we currently have, provides avenues for the officer to work around.....and it gives more of a chance for a criminal to be caught. It has to be noted that with a zero pursuit policy, this puts the officer in greater risk of losing his job or being reprimanded for doing his or her job!

Officer with 7 years on the street


This topic has been dwelled upon for decades. The easy solution is to make the penalty so sever that only someone wanted for a violent fellony will even think about running. The average bank robber serves around 7 years. Make the penalty for running from the police, for ANY reason at all 20 years with 80% required, and make it mandatory consecutive time, not concurrent. Then the average bank robber who runs from the police is going to serve 23 years. I think that sounds great! The first time someone goes to jail for 20 years because they didnt want a ticket will open eyes all over the country and shortly there after i belive you will see chases to be almost non-existant. Sure there will be a few sacraficial lambs when this law comes out, but if you think of how many people they endangered durring there little romp through the streets, i wont feel bad for them. Also, anyone that runs from the police should NEVER again in there lifetime have a valid drivers license.

Mark Lewis
Police Officer City of South Amboy
South Amboy, NJ


Most pursuit videos I have seen are "stupidly" dangerous.

Except for "real" bad felony pursuits, armed bank robbery pursuits, officer down pursuits, terrorist shooting pursuits, police cruisers should be armed with good quality digital camers that can be operated remotley by an officer to shoot "several" "good" pics, and then disengage a "hot" pursuit. Then, just follow along and/or arrest them later.

The camera also could be cruiser mounted in a camera dock that was connected physically or via radio, and which was capable of transfering the just taken photos to a computer automatically or at the press of a button.

The digital photos could be blown up by the officers on the scene, or another party if needed to read the license #, and find out who the perp is, etc...

That info could be broadcast to the officers "on the sceen" or to other officers who could then go to the "home" of the perp and arrest him/her. They would have both the license number and a pic of the vehicle.

I have a Kodac camera that has a docking station that with the press of a button moves the pics from the camera to my computer, so such technology exists today.

Best regards,

John Veit
www.pointshooting.com


I believe pursuits should always be authorized. I wonder what the percentages are of vehicles being pursued for traffic violations which have just been involved in a felony i.e. bank robbery, shooting, etc. in which the bad guys were caught just because of a traffic violation?

Officer D. Plume
Watauga DPS Texas


We (Police) should not pursue vehicles at dangerous speeds, endangering our lives and the lives of innocent citizens. The end to most of these high-speed chases is an accident. Many of these accidents cause major, often fatal, injuries. It is just not worth it. With today’s technology, we should be given the tools to stop a vehicle without a chase. 99.9% of the time, it is just not worth it. The crime and suspects are petty and will eventually be caught by other means. If the citizens who pay our wages and direct our actions want us to apprehend dangerous fleeing felons they can provide us with the tools to make these apprehensions safely. Police are courageous and daring and have no problem doing what ever it takes to capture a felon, but that does not mean we are stupid and it does not mean we should take on the burden of killing or seriously injuring a citizens when smarter actions should be taken.

Respectfully,
DAI Curtis Cashen


About the author

If you have tactical information, compelling incidents, general comments or topics you would like to share, please contact Scott Buhrmaster, Managing Editor for PoliceOne.com and the Director of Training for the PoliceOne Training Network, at: buhrmastergroup@comcast.net





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