PURSUITS: SAFETY vs. APPREHENSION
Pursuits are not a game we play on Play Station, XBOX, or in real life!! Pursuits are not a race or any sort of competition with the suspect or each other for that matter!!
We’re getting into the warmer months of the year and pursuits seem to be more prevalent during this time of year. The dangers of police pursuits have been well documented. For several years, the number of officers killed in vehicle related crashes continued to rise, though not just solely during pursuits.
In 2003, more U. S. law enforcement officers were killed (13) while engaged in a pursuit than in any year in history. This should remind all of us of the inherent dangers associated with pursuits. In 2010 and 2011, four officers perished in each year while actively engaged in a pursuit. In 2012, five officers perished in this manner. So far this year, 2013, one officer has lost their life in a pursuit. (per the Officer Down Memorial Page)
Once an officer engages in a vehicle pursuit and determines that they are meeting departmental policy and their legal obligations (state law) by continuing, there are several techniques that can be used to ensure safety and success.
FOLLOWING DISTANCE: The tendency in a vehicle pursuit is to follow the suspect at close proximity. This is a dangerous practice, on a few levels, but is enhanced due to the stress of the situation for both the officer and the violator. The recommended following distance is about 4 to 6 seconds. This is much higher than normal driving, but it is a necessity. This gives an officer ample time to react in case the suspect attempts to use their car as a weapon or the violator to bait (brake check or a game of chicken) the officer into a collision. This also helps with tunnel vision. Tunnel vision is bound to happen while involved in a pursuit, but with the added distance this will assist you in recognizing more of your surroundings. To apply the proper following distance, merely take the time to note an object the suspect has just passed and count the number of seconds it takes for you to reach that same object. Adjust your distance based on those findings. If at all possible, this should be done “a few” times throughout the pursuit. Granted, this may seem “easier said than done” while actively engaged in the pursuit, but one thing this strategy will assist with is cutting down the chances for getting tunnel vision. While being conscious of your surroundings you will be better able to adjust to various hazards during the pursuit. After all, in a pursuit situation, we are merely pacing the suspect vehicle just like we would for any (non-radar) speed violation right?
TACTICAL INTERVENTION: There has been an influx over the years on utilizing tactical maneuvers to end pursuits. With the proper training and situation, these can be very effective. Although these maneuvers can end a pursuit, they can also bring an additional element of danger if not performed properly, or if the suspect anticipates the action and brakes or maneuvers wide.
The situation and environment must be perfect. The presence of curbs, trees, other traffic, pedestrian activity, or fixed structures can lead to severe injury or death for someone – including you. Ensure that your training is current and sufficient to justify a potentially dangerous precision maneuver. Obviously getting close violates the 4 to 6 second rule, but if done properly, these maneuvers are an invaluable tool in combating the dangers of continuing any pursuits.
EMERGENCY EQUIPMENT: The use of our lights & siren during a pursuit could give you a false sense of security. This is called “Siren Syndrome” which I’ll discuss in another article but simply put, with all that equipment in operation you feel invincible. Trust me you are not. Bear in mind that if YOU KNOW other drivers out there DON’T KNOW that you are coming up on their hind end, you’ll be better off in the long run. You must assume that citizens do not see or hear you. At speeds over 50 mph, a citizen will not hear the siren until the officer is right alongside, or has already passed. The phenomenon of over-driving a siren will occur in most pursuits. Daylight hours provides for another problem. Emergency lights are not seen that well during the day. The officer should be aware of this and take extreme precautions when engaged in a pursuit around the public either day or at night.
EMOTIONS: The participation in a pursuit is highly dangerous. The influence of increased adrenalin and the potential for tunnel vision may affect emotions and decision making. The ability to make rational decisions will be affected by emotions. You must realize this and take extra care to protect yourself, and others, while actively engaged in a pursuit. Some officers have reported that concentrating on deep breaths versus rapid breathing helps them in controlling their emotions. When emotions are up = Rationality is down...By the same token - when rationality is up = emotions are down at a controllable level.
ATTITUDE: This goes right along with emotions. Pursuits are not a competition. It’s not a race to see if you’re faster than the suspect, or even another officer. It's not an event where you can "show off." The attitude an officer possesses has more to do with the safety of a pursuit than driving ability. The right attitude equals the correct decision. The correct decision equals success.
EMOTIONS & ATTITUDE COMBINED: Now when these two characteristics are combined it creates a highly stressful environment, for you. If you’re feeling highly agitated during, or at the termination of a pursuit, here’s my tip for you. First off, if you’ve got these feelings at the onset of a pursuit you probably shouldn’t be involved in the first place. Secondly, if you’re feeling these stresses at the termination of a pursuit - I hope you’re recognizing it. I say this as you shouldn’t be taking one step towards that subject because you will probably be doing something you’ll regret later. Take a second or two to get yourself together, regain your composure (breathe), and then go help out where you can. There are others there that are in the proper frame of mind, or mindset, that will professionally handle that suspect. On the flip side of this coin…if that suspect makes the decision to come charging at you either physically or ballistically, by all means let your emotions flow to the point of stopping that threat.
CONCLUSION: Apprehension IS NOT the primary goal in a police pursuit. THE SAFETY OF THE OFFICER(S) AND THE PUBLIC ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECTS. This may relate to terminating a pursuit or slowing down to a manageable speed. One thing is certain; the risks are high for all involved. By utilizing defensive techniques, controlling emotions, and having the right attitude, the officer can conduct this law enforcement function in the safest possible manner. The initiation, continuance, and ultimate termination or aborting of a pursuit is your responsibility. Having the proper mindset and making good decisions go hand in hand when engaging in a pursuit.
AND – Remember to breathe!!
*This original article was posted on 5-10-2004 by Captain Travis Yates, Tulsa PD (Oklahoma) toPoliceOne.com. I again have merely added my own “2 cents worth” here and there.