Putting an End to Pursuit Collisions
Travis Yates / PoliceDriving.com
A Law Enforcement Pursuit is one of the most dangerous performance skills that a police officer can do. In recent years there have been drastic changes with department pursuit policies and training. Although many states require some form of training in reference to pursuits, several do not.
There are four issues that are causing one third of all pursuits around the United States to end in a collision and around one percent to end in death or serious injury.
- There is a lack of training.
- There is a lack of an effective pursuit policy.
- There is a lack of utilizing the proper technology.
- An improper mentality.
There is no question that training should be mandatory on a yearly basis. It would be unheard of to not require officers to qualify each year with their service handgun. Vehicles are a deadly weapon and are currently killing police at an alarming rate. In 2007 more officers were killed in vehicle incidents than in any other year and so far in 2008 there have been 12 deaths, a 200% increase from the same time last year.
Mandatory training that is required in most basic academies is a start but what about the fifteen-year veteran that has not been given any additional driver or pursuit training? The typical police officer is given a 2-5 day school in their basic academy on driving. Maybe 4-8 hours of that was spent on pursuit training. With the inundation of modern academy information, does that training block on pursuits come into play five to ten years later when the officer is involved in the real deal? Driving, just like firearm proficiency is a diminished skill. Without continued practice and training, you will lose the skills that you were taught in the academy.
The State of California has taken measures to correct the training deficiency currently present in many police departments. The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training requires that an officer take four-hours of driver training every 24 months. This is a legislative requirement and a very good model for other states and police departments to follow. There have been similar mandates in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Florida with many individual agencies mandating training to their officers on a regular basis well beyond the basic academy. This is a good start but we must keep pushing for regular training in driving until every officer in America is included.
Many police departments do not have an effective policy on pursuits. A pursuit policy should be specific, have accountability, and place supervisors in independent roles as monitors. The current trend in progressive departments is to have restrictive policies on pursuits (i.e. violent felonies). This is effective in reducing collisions and deaths with pursuits but many communities and agencies are timid in letting many criminals go when they fail to stop for the police. One thing is for certain; the apprehension of a suspect in a pursuit must outweigh the danger it is creating to the public. A sound pursuit policy must be completely understood and followed to be effective.
Police Departments are also failing to take advantage of adequate technology when it comes to pursuits. There are many items that can assist an officer in managing a police pursuit.
Tire Deflation Devices are designed to deflate vehicle tires in a controlled manner. Although they will not cause a suspect to stop, they will force the vehicle to a much slower speed, which will increase the safety aspects of a pursuit. An agency not providing these devices to every police officer is simply proliferating one of the most dangerous aspects of police work. The use of these devices must come with consistent and quality training.
Helicopters are being utilized in many jurisdictions as a safe means to pursue suspects. The helicopter can pursue the vehicle safely from the air and the ground units can follow a safe distance behind waiting for the violator to stop. In the majority of the pursuits, the violator will slow down and stop their vehicle shortly after they do not see lights and siren. Once the driver has exited the car on foot, the helicopter can advise the ground units of the suspect’s location. Although this has been effective, there are suspects that continue to drive very fast and reckless regardless of police presence. Due to that, additional measures are necessary in combating police pursuits.
The Pursuit Intervention Technique (PIT) is the current hot topic in pursuit technology. The cost is minimal and the training is relatively easy to conduct. This is a tactic where the police touch their car to the back quarter panel of the violator. Once that occurs, the officer can turn into the suspect car, which causes a loss of tire traction. In 90% of the cases, the engine will shut down, stopping the pursuit. Although this technique is very effective, it can only be used in a small percentage of the pursuits. Conditions must be appropriate and the training must be excellent before it can be done successfully.
The mental aspect of a police pursuit is just as important as the skills needed by officers. Decisions must come at a time when adrenaline is pumping and with the environment constantly changing. Officers must ensure that despite the actions of the suspect, they must keep the safety of them, their fellow officers and the community first in their mind. Police administrators must have the correct mentality. They are by nature a reactive group that waits for bad things to happen prior to making the appropriate changes. Administrators must be proactive in implementing sound pursuit policies and training. They should spend money in an effort to obtain the adequate technology and training to protect the lives of their officers and citizens.
Captain Travis Yates commands the Precision Driver Training Unit with the Tulsa, Okla. Police Department. He is a nationally recognized driving instructor and a certified instructor in tire deflation devices and the pursuit intervention technique. Captain Yates has a Master of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Northeastern State University and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He is the owner of www.policedriving.com, a website dedicated to law enforcement driving issues.