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Major Lesson Plan: Pursuit Judgment

Jack Ryan

Target Audience: Law Enforcement personnel who may be faced with pursuit decisions.

Objective: Provide officers with training on judgment/decision making ability with respect to pursuits.

Format: Roll-call/ supervisory training.

Time: Five to ten minutes, but this may be expanded where agency resources allow

Materials: Law Enforcement Risk Management Legal Update, March 2004; Department Pursuit Policy

Hypothetical presented:

Officers observe a speeding motor vehicle in the heavily congested town square, the officers activate their emergency equipment but the motorist speeds up and continues on.

What factors should be considered in deciding whether to pursue this vehicle?

Heavily congested area

High rate of speed

Offense known to officers is minor

Due to the nature of the offense and the risk of pursuing in the town square area, the officers terminate the pursuit. A short time later officers learn that the vehicle they had been pursuing had fled the scene of a shoplifting incident in the town square. Officers running radar on a two-lane roadway outside of town observe the vehicle. Having spotted the officer, the driver makes a u-turn and speeds away. The two-lane roadway has no residences on it and only a few businesses. The traffic is light at the time of day. In deciding whether to pursue this vehicle, officers should consider:

Nature of the offense has now changed to misdemeanor criminal conduct. It is still minor when balanced against public safety

Look to agency policy; Are pursuits allowed for misdemeanor offenses?

Roadway conditions have changed in favor of a pursuit. Officers are no longer in the congested town square and traffic is light. In addition there are no residences and few businesses in the area.

After pursuing this vehicle a short distance the weather changes to a torrential downpour of rain that significantly reduces visibility. In deciding whether to continue the pursuit, officers must balance:

The danger created to the officer, public and the suspect by the weather change that has reduced visibility against the need to apprehend for the misdemeanor property crime of shoplifting.

Due to the danger, the officers decide to discontinue their pursuit mode and proceed in a following mode which involves the observance of all traffic regulations. While following at an increasing distance, the officers receive a broadcast that the suspect being followed was also involved in an armed bank robbery in a neighboring jurisdiction earlier in the day. In deciding whether to reinitiate a pursuit, officers should consider:

Due to the severity of the offense, a violent felony involving the use of a weapon against the person (bank teller), the balancing of public safety versus the need to apprehend has begun to shift in favor of a pursuit provided that other high risk factors from the pursuit matrix have not entered the equation.

Officers and supervisors must continue to evaluate any other risk factors including the rain that may cut against a decision to pursue.

As the officers reinitiate the pursuit, the rain stops. The suspect speeds up to 80 m.p.h. in a 45 m.p.h. zone. Several police vehicles join the pursuit. The suspect reaches a traffic intersection and speeds through it against the light. By now the officers have identified the suspect as Harry Gashat, a known character to police. In deciding whether to continue the pursuit, officers should consider:

Harry’s high rate of speed

Harry’s extremely hazardous maneuvers. (blasting through red light

The fact that the suspect has now been identified and presumably can be apprehended at a later time

The fact that several police vehicles have joined the pursuit. Even if several vehicles were authorized to be in the pursuit, the larger the number of vehicles, the greater the likelihood of accidents.

As a training component, officers should be encouraged to read the materials in this bulletin following the training session. The presenter should conduct a follow-up session (perhaps at the next roll-call) to determine if officers are considering the risk factors in their judgment.

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