This article was written by a contributing author and is not meant to be taken as legal advice or otherwise. Kindly contact us if you have any suggestions to improve this article here.
Police emergency pursuits may be exciting to watch on a television crime show, but in reality they are serious business. They are not scripted and the participants have literally no idea of what the next few seconds may hold. A police emergency pursuit is an option that most law enforcement officers would rather avoid. Law enforcement officers across the country have put together lists of best practices that they strive to follow if at all possible. Although nothing is fool-proof, the use of these best practices has been used to ensure public safety and protect the lives of officers as much as possible.
The Purpose of Police Emergency Vehicle Pursuit
A police emergency vehicle pursuit occurs when a suspect attempts to flee the police in order to avoid being detained or arrested. A suspect shows reckless disregard for public safety by commandeering a vehicle and driving it at high speeds on various types of roadways. This includes city streets, alleys, and highways. The purpose of a police emergency vehicle pursuit is to stop the suspect from fleeing and prevent damage to property or the death of innocent civilians and law enforcement officers.
What Constitutes Police Emergency Vehicle Pursuit?
A police emergency vehicle pursuit involves one or more officers who are engaged in chasing a fleeing suspect. A pursuing officer must remain in the formation that the supervisor orders or they may be directed to try and circumvent the area and come in from a different direction to get in front of the fleeing vehicle. Some chases take place at excessive speeds , while others are much slower with the driver obeying most traffic laws except for failing to stop when the officer tries to pull them over. Law enforcement officers may engage in pursuit intervention tactics or simply follow the fleeing vehicle until the driver crashes or decides to give up.
When Is an Emergency Pursuit Called For?
If a police officer believes that a suspect is trying to evade apprehension or arrest, they may choose to ask their supervisor if a chase at any speed is in order. If the officer has watched criminal activity occur and the suspect is blatantly fleeing the area, they may make a judgment call and begin pursuit at that time. If an officer believes that the subject is a physical threat to themselves or the public at large, it is their duty to attempt to apprehend the subject and minimize that threat.
If the identity of the subject is known and the officer knows the suspect can be apprehended at a later time, they may choose to let the suspect get away. There may also be times when dangerous weather conditions will prevent an officer from chasing a suspect vehicle at any speed. It will be up to the officer to know whether or not they have sufficient driving skills to successfully pursue a suspect in an emergency vehicle.
Are There Different Types of Emergency Pursuit?
Police emergency pursuits can occur at various speeds. A primary officer will take the lead during the pursuit and will work with a supervisor or watch commander to try to identify potential routes or safety concerns that may end up in the path of the suspect. A caravan pursuit involves multiple police vehicles driving two by two behind the lead pursuit vehicle and the suspect. More than one law enforcement agency may be involved in the pursuit.
During a high speed chase, police officers will have their emergency lights and sirens on to alert the public to clear away and avoid coming near the chase area. A supervisor may be able to use advanced technology to keep an eye on the subject. This will allow other law enforcement units to be dispatched to areas that may be in the potential path of the subject.
When Should Emergency Pursuit Be Terminated?
An emergency pursuit should be terminated if the risk begins to outweigh public safety. If the offense the suspect is charged with is minor, it may not be worth the overall risk of loss to police emergency equipment and the possible loss of life of law enforcement officers. Weather conditions and poor road conditions may also contribute to the decision to terminate the police pursuit. There are also instances where the suspect is successful in evading police. When this occurs, officers can use the information they have to find the suspect in other ways.
What Are a Police Officer’s Responsibilities When Pursuing a Target Vehicle?
As soon as an emergency vehicle pursuit begins, the primary officer must immediately be in communication with the police chief or immediate supervisor. As the pursuit is taking place, the officer must be able to collect as much information as possible. This includes:
- Why pursuit was initiated
- Location/direction of pursuit
- Approximate speed
- Description of vehicle, occupants, and plate number
- Information involving any possible weapons
It is the police officer’s responsibility to perform their duties and apprehend the subject while at the same time, doing everything they can to protect the public and keep property loss to a minimum.
The Use of PIT Maneuvers
PIT (precision immobilization technique) maneuvers are most effective when used at speeds under 45 miles per hour. A PIT maneuver is performed by an officer bumping the rear corner of the suspect vehicle in an attempt to stop it from going any further. PIT maneuvers are safe if used under the right circumstances. The primary officer must have extensive driving skills and be able to use whatever tactical maneuvers they can to halt the pursuit.
Is Training on a Computer Generated Simulator Effective?
Many officers train using a computer generated simulator. While this offers basic skills and can mimic real-life situations, it is not a true test of the police officer’s ability to lead a high-speed chase. During their training at the Police Academy, a driving obstacle course is set up and new officers are able to test their driving skills under a variety of circumstances. This gives them a chance to experience the full weight of what handling a police cruiser feels like at different speeds.
The Use of Aircraft During a Pursuit
Law enforcement agencies will commonly use helicopters or other small aircraft to follow a high speed pursuit that is taking place on the roadways below. By remaining in constant communication with the police chief, supervisor, or watch commander, individuals in the air can alert police officers to possible problems they may encounter during the chase. By communicating with officers in the air, patrol officers can be dispatched further ahead so that the suspect vehicle can be intercepted and eventually surrounded.
Supervisor and Watch Commander Communication and Responsibilities
It is up to the supervisor and watch commander to remain in constant communication with the police chief as well as with the primary and secondary officers involved in the pursuit. By working together as a team, they can minimize the overall risk caused by the police pursuit and, if at all possible, intercept and contain the target vehicle so that the suspect can be arrested and taken to jail.
Police officers have several pursuit intervention tactics they can use to slow down or stall a suspect vehicle. Stop sticks are deployed into the path of a target vehicle with the goal of flattening at least two of the tires and preventing the vehicle from continuing on. Police officers can also set up road blocks using their police cars or barricades. This may be able to direct the suspect vehicle into an area where there is no way out.
The key to any type of successful chase is constant communication between the primary and secondary officers. They must be in communication with their supervisors and other officers as well. The primary officer relies on input from the other officers to be able to continue the pursuit as long as it may be necessary. Open communication is essential and will avoid mistakes that could lead to an accident that results in property damage and personal injury.
The Use of Firearms
There are times when the use of firearms during a chase may be necessary. The use of any type of weapon may be frowned up on if members of the public are still in the area of the chase. In the name of public safety, a supervisor may restrict the use of firearms unless the suspect gives some indication that they are armed as well.
Accountability and Transparency
Any type of chase poses a threat to public safety. It is essential that law enforcement officers at every level remain accountable and as transparent as possible. Dash and body cams can be used to identify potential problems and also indicate areas where an officer went above and beyond using exceptional driving skills to avoid endangering the lives of local citizens and their fellow officers. While the best practices may vary slightly from department to department, the commitment an officer makes to keeping the public safe is uniform across the board.