6 safety tips for motor officers in pursuits

Before you go “Code 3” and activate your emergency lights and toggle that siren on, here are six things to consider


Article updated on May 9, 2018. 

We all love to drive fast with lights flashing and siren wailing away. If you don’t enjoy that particular activity, you are an anomaly and unlike every cop I’ve met ever. Before you go “Code 3” and activate your emergency lights and toggle that siren on, here are six things to consider.

1. Take three deep breaths 

When your adrenaline spikes, there are natural side effects that occur. Your throat constricts. Your blood pressure increases. You experience tunnel vision. You get less oxygen to your brain – you know, that thing that helps you make decisions? Taking deep breaths helps to counteract these things. 

A deep breath will get your brain much-needed oxygen and clear an otherwise cloudy mind. This shouldn’t take you more than a few seconds, but they are seconds that will significantly increase your ability to make clear decisions. Before you grab a handful of clutch to down shift, take this important step.

2. Slow down

Sounds counterintuitive during a police pursuit, but just because the bad guy is driving like a bat of out hell with his hair on fire doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing. Other resources can allow you to keep a safe distance:

  • Air: An eye in the sky is a beautiful thing. It significantly increases the possibility of maintaining a visual on the suspect without having to ride his rear bumper.
  • K-9: If you have the option, having a K-9 in a pursuit is great for the inevitable crash and/or foot bail.
  • Neighbors: Neighboring agencies ahead of the pursuit may be able to assist if you – or your supervisor – give them enough notice.

Speed – combined with driving outside of one’s abilities – is the cause of too many crashes. 

3. Slow down even more when clearing intersections

If your agency is anything like mine, you have a policy regarding how fast you are allowed to clear an intersection. Nobody expects you to pursue someone at 15 MPH, but when it comes time to hit an intersection, those 15 MPH are key. 

Policy notwithstanding, it just makes good sense. Cross traffic doesn’t always hear us or see us. The aforementioned tunnel vision is one of the biggest culprits in intersection collisions because we aren’t paying attention to cross traffic. 

4. Ask yourself a question and respond by moving your head back and forth

The question is, “Am I going to get hit today?” 

The answer is an emphatic, “No!” 

The idea of moving your head back and forth has a dual purpose. First, it gets you to look for that cross traffic. Second, it breaks tunnel vision. When your textbook video plays on the front page of PoliceOne, I want to see that giant white dome of yours moving back and forth consistently.

5. Don’t be afraid to call off your own pursuit

If conditions are getting too dangerous and you are succumbing to the temptations of wanting to get the bad guy at the risk of your own neck, it’s time to pull the plug. If I’ve learned anything in the last sixteen years, it’s this: We will get them eventually. 

Get home to your family. They are more important than some suspect.

6. If our four-wheeled friends jump in the pursuit, back off and trail safely

This one hurts. I get it. We motors have huge egos – it comes with the helmet. Consequently, letting a car of all things take over our pursuit is a difficult move, but it’s the right one. Pursuits are dangerous for car cops, too, but they have the advantage of being surrounded by steel and being secured by seat belts and, if things go awry, they are also surrounded by air bags. 

I hope these guidelines are nothing new to you – I hope you practice them with something akin to religious rote. If you have any more, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section.

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