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Police vehicle pursuit refers to an active attempt by a law enforcement officer operating a vehicle with emergency equipment to apprehend suspected law violator in a motor vehicle when the driver of the vehicle attempts to avoid apprehension. Many vehicle pursuits are conducted by patrol officers and known mostly known as hot pursuits or chases. Stevens (2011), says that police vehicle pursuits usually involve a fleeing suspect. The main concern related with high speed police chases is if the benefits of apprehension outweigh the risks to anyone, who comes in contract with the chase, other officers involved, the public and the suspect. This implies that police vehicle pursuits are both effective and dangerous. Stevens (2011), says that it the duty of police department leaderships to consider the factors influencing the outcome of vehicular pursuits and to provide the appropriate training to improve the safety of their officers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that approximately 315 deaths occur each year in the United States as a result of police vehicle pursuits. Stevens (2011), says that police pursuit records show that the majority of pursuits involve preventive measures for traffic violation and that 42% of those injured or killed in the course of such pursuits are innocent third parties.
High speed chases may end in injury or death to the suspect, the police pursuer or innocent by standers. Reid (2011), says that police vehicle pursuits are not worth the results in property damage, human injuries and deaths. In the United States, some courts have held police departments liable for the consequences of such pursuits. Also police departments restrict the types of cases in which vehicle pursuits are permitted or forbid them entirely. Dempsey & Forst (2011), note that a current debate questions whether the police should pursue fleeing vehicles especially when such pursuit could risk injuries to the police or innocent civilians. People on the other side argue that if the police do not pursue fleeing drivers, they are sending a message to violators that they can get away with traffic violations by fleeing.
What Prevents Us from Understanding Pursuits?
Barkan & Bryjak (2011), say that the general public may not understand police pursuits fully, because the offenses are not worth petting people on the road and causing risk incidents. In some cases people admit that they would rather let a stolen car go then take risk of someone getting killed. People may not understand reforms more fully, especially when they turn into accidents and also result in significant monetary losses for cities and counties (Barkan & Bryjak, 2011).
According to McNab (2009), people do not understand vehicle pursuits because they wrestle with the fact that vehicle chases are high emotion incidents. The public is concerned that the police officers do not receive adequate pursuit training and that there are no proper pursuit data recording. At the same time the public contends that too much inadequate controls on police pursuit could place the public at risk from dangerous individuals escaping apprehension (McNab, 2009).
Policy Options Available to Agencies Addressing Issues of Pursuits
Departments are looking into their longstanding policy of actively pursuing anyone who fails to stop for a police officer. The pursuits cause a lot of injury, death, damage, emotional pain and economic costs. Dempsey & Forst (2011), argue that with today’s technology, the offender can often be apprehended in safer ways other than pursuits. The number of accidents and injuries resulting from police high speed pursuits has led many United Police departments to establish formal police pursuit policies. These policies regulate the conditions and circumstances under which the police has to chase or pursue motorists, who drive at high speeds in a dangerous manner (Dempsey & Forst, 2011).
There a re three pursuit policy models which include discretionary, restrictive and discouraging. The discretionary policy model allows officers to make all major decisions relating to initiation, tactics and termination. The restrictive policy model places certain restrictions on officer’s judgments and decision while the discouraging policy model severely cautions against or discourages any pursuit except in the most extreme circumstances (Barkan & Bryjak, 2011).
With the discretionary policy many pursuit departments have concluded that the dangers to officers, citizens and even the individual being pursued often determine that pursuits are not an effective tactic and the dangers far outweigh the benefits (Dempsey & Forst, 2011). Dempsey & Forst (2011) further indicated that vehicle pursuit policies give clear guidelines to officers and supervisors about what their roles are. In 2003, almost all departments had pursuit policies, 60% of local police agencies had a restrictive pursuit policy based on speed and type of offense.
According to Dempsey & Forst (2011), in major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle 25% of departments had a judgmental pursuit policy leaving it to the officer’s discretion and 6% discouraged all vehicle pursuits. According to these policies officers are allowed to chase drivers, who have committed serious crimes such as displaying weapons and creating clear danger to other people. Studies indicate that implementing a restrictive pursuit policy encourages officers to call off a pursuit and seek other alternatives to apprehend the suspect thus encouraging drivers to flee and hence offenders get away (Dempsey & Forst, 2011).
Departments should, therefore, use three pronged approach; updating the policy, putting the responsibility for ending the pursuit on the officer, providing pursuit related training including review of all pursuits terminated or not (Dempsey & Forst, 2011). Part of the training includes stressing that officers should record identifying characteristics of the fleeing vehicle to assist later apprehension and flooding the area with other units to be available for apprehension when the pursuit is terminated. Dempsey & Forst (2011), say that a common reaction after termination was for the offenders to slow down and resume normal driving or abandon the vehicle which increased opportunities for apprehension.
Discretionary pursuit policies can cause conflicts between neighboring towns or counties when their policies differ. This is because one county may initiate a pursuit that crosses a boundary into another jurisdiction where officers will not pursue. Dempsey & Forst (2011), say that the agencies need to communicate their policies and plan how they will handle the conflicts that may arise.
Of late the best alternative is for departments to explore using technology. Dempsey & Forst (2011), state that “law enforcement air units commonly assist in pursuits and track the offender to a stopping place often with the added element of video” (p. 274). The police vehicle pursuits should have good working relationship with the TV media, where they may request this kind of monitored assistance. Also the use of tire deflation spikes is a good alternative in appropriate situations.
Another important system being tested is the StarChase Pursuit Management system. According to Dempsey & Forst (2011), with this system patrol cars are equipped with compressed air launches that fire a miniature GPS receiver in a sticky compound resembling a golf ball at the offender’s vehicle to which it sticks and emits radio signal to police. This potential alternative to the pursuit has law enforcement officers excited (Dempsey & Forst, 2011). As a result of the widely published beatings of individuals after pursuits, suspects should be apprehended by officers other than those who led the chase, because the officers chasing the suspects experience higher adrenaline emission that can lead to the use of excessive force once they have arrested the suspects (Hicks, 2007).
A number of issues surrounding police pursuits is replete with problems regarding negligence, liability, force, reporting as well as community relations. Hicks (2007), says that as litigation continues to grow the constitutional issues raised by Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment considerations also plague many law enforcement agencies. Except the considerations pertaining to departmental liability, there also exists the issue of monetary compensations concerning pursuits. Hicks (2007), says that litigation resulting from tragic outcomes of vehicle pursuits can easily grow into the millions of dollars annually.
Discouraging policy, according to Hicks (2007), ensures that taxpayers and police agencies do not suffer equally when a pursuit goes awry and a claim of negligence or liability is substantiated. Using the discouraging policy implies that law enforcement agencies should have in effect a capable, trainable vehicular pursuit policy that can serve as a guide for the officer discretion. Hicks (2007), established that “a comprehensive policy acts as a guide for officer discretion so they can better choose a more mindful course of action while conducting a pursuit” (p. 98).
While carrying out vehicle pursuits, the need to apprehend the suspect must be weighed against the need to avoid endangering civilians or other parties not directly involved in the ongoing pursuit. The author further says that the greater the potential risk to the general public, the officer or the suspect, the less justified the pursuit. He also notes that while it is impractical and perhaps illogical to formulate precise, objective rules to cover the many complexities of a pursuit, it is nonetheless, vital for an agency to develop a comprehensive policy governing the conduct of officers while in the midst of vehicle pursuits.
A Research-Based Policy for a Hypothetical Police Department
Discouraging policy model severely cautions against or discourages any pursuit except in the most extreme circumstances. May & Headley (2008) noted that the discouraging policy is the best because of the dangers inherent in pursuits. The discouraging policy should be emphasized on the focus of ensuring that training for officers involved in pursuit activities is increased. The discouraging policy assumes that fewer pursuits will mean fewer injuries and deaths and fewer lawsuits as well (May & Headley, 2008).
The discouraging policy can be implemented in an effort to reduce the number and risk of pursuits in significant ways by advances in technology. May & Headley (2008) says that increasing use of spike strips that can slowly deflate tires without sudden loss of control and even the development of what are called auto arrestors promise to de crease the number and length of pursuits in the future.
The discouraging policy can also be implemented through the use of controlled contact techniques including boxing in and pursuit intervention techniques (PIT) can be useful in ending pursuits, if the officers are trained and the techniques are executed and employed properly and judiciously (May & Headley, 2008).
The primary focus of the early research was on understanding the predicting risk factors associated with various aspects of pursuits. Isom (2008), says that the Post Canton Pursuit research was the appropriate approach for period, since agencies are trying to determine how to develop or modify their pursuit policies in line with the most current court rulings on the issue, and thereby, insulate themselves from the risk of adverse litigation.
The importance of using the discouraging policy is that the policy is defensible in court and provides a greater degree of safety for suspects and citizens. Isom (2008) says that as the majority of police agencies can begin to develop discouraging pursuit policies or restrict the existing ones. The discouraging policy should begin to focus on identifying specific contextual factor and officer characteristics related to pursuits that cause property damage, injury and death. Additionally, Isom (2008) mentioned that research should examine the varying degrees of pursuit policy restrictiveness and these policies impact on the number of pursuits, accidents, injuries and deaths.
Developing discouraging pursuit policies reduces the number of pursuits and as the restrictiveness of an agency’s pursuit policy increases, it is more likely that the negative outcomes associated with pursuits would decrease. Isom (2008), argued that “based on the academic research, detailed policies must be developed reserving pursuit as a tool for apprehension in circumstances in which the suspect has committed a violent felony” (14). In addition, the majority of police agencies accept the standard that officers to be trained based on the pursuit guidelines established by their agency and that there to be an ongoing process that allows management to evaluate pursuits that occur and monitor them to compliance.
In conclusion, the idea of vehicle pursuit is not new, but it is of late come into the forefront recently as an increasing number of police pursuits continue to end in tragedy. It should be noted that as the body count continues to rise, law enforcement administrators should engage in ways of coming up with national and more standardized pursuit policy in a more serious fashion. Despite the fact that the prior law enforcement research supported the effectiveness of discretionary pursuits as a means of apprehending suspects, research and logic dictated that the potential human, legal and property costs of pursuits made it necessary to restrict pursuits for use in only the most serious cases.