Pursuit Policies

What good is a pursuit policy if officers don't have to follow it?



by California's Fourth Appellate Court

"The law in its current state simply grants a 'get out of liability free card' to public entities [law enforcement agencies, cities and towns] that go through the formality of adopting a policy. The adoption of a policy, which may never be implemented, is cold comfort to innocent victims. We do not know if the policy was followed in this instance, and that is precisely the point: We will never know because defendant [police] did not have to prove [that they] followed the policy. ... We urge the Legislature to revisit this statute and seriously reconsider the balance between public entity immunity and public safety. The balance appears to have shifted too far toward immunity and left public safety twisting in the wind." -- An Excerpt from a Ruling by California's Fourth Appellate Court
on a case where a pedestrian was killed during a pursuit in a California high school parking lot.

Too many Police Pursuit Policies gather dust on shelves  

Public awareness and pressure paved the way for safer weapon and firearm policies; so eventually, the way officers conduct police vehicular pursuits will change.  If law enforcement does not make the change on its own, the public must turn to its legislators because too many people are being killed, maimed and injured.  And too many of these people are the innocent.

Since the State of California provided complete immunity to police agencies that adopt a four criteria pursuit policy, without requiring that the policy be followed, California has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in police pursuit deaths and the toll promises to continue ever higher until there is statutory intervention, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association's fatality reports on pursuits.

Unfortunately, the California Highway Patrol has been the greatest advocate of not restricting police pursuits and, not surprisingly, the other California law enforcement agencies have followed that lead to lobby against any legislation that would curtail their "right" to pursue at any price.

However, in recent years some California law enforcement agencies have restrictive policies for high-speed police driving and chases. But that's not good enough.  Policies are useless if they aren't followed.

Kristie's Law is about improving safety, not only for the public's protection but for the officers' as well.  California needs this law to prevent such tragedies from happening again and again.  Let's not wait for another tragic crash to happen before passing a law to prevent it.

Training our officers is also critical.  Good officers evaluate a situation before they even "light up" a vehicle.  In many cases, there is no need for the Split-Second myth.  Officers can get the tags and call them in first before attempting to pull over a person.  This simple procedure gives officers an idea of whom they are dealing with and a heads up as to whether the driver might flee.

In his book "Police Pursuits: What We Know," Dr. Geoffrey Alpert, who conducted the Department of Justice study and chairs the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, states, "Officers must continually question whether the seriousness of the crime justifies continuing the pursuit.  The immediate apprehension of the violator is never more important than the safety of innocent persons or the officers themselves."

... More from around the Nation and the World

What's the point? California law enforcement agencies must adopt a pursuit policy, but officers do not need to follow that policy.

(If the Chico, California, Police Officers and the command supervisor had followed their own pursuit policy, Kristie Priano would be alive today, attending classes at Chico State!  Instead, her family and friends can only envision all the future that was lost and place flowers on Kristie's grave.)

POLICE say agents' parolee chase was against city policy
San Francisco Chronicle - San Francisco, CA, July 21, 2004
... policy would call for me to terminate that pursuit,'' Panighetti testified... 17.  Panighetti said endangering San Jose residents with a high-speed chase wasn't ...  For the rest of the story, click here.

POLICE policy questioned
Dallas Morning News - Dallas, TX,  Aug. 23, 2004
By JASON TRAHAN. Josephine Martinez doesn't care what the Dallas Police Department's policy on high-speed chases is. ... This story is no longer posted on the web. 

PUBLIC debates patrol's decision
Savannah Morning News - Savannah,GA Aug. 23, 2004
... were killed in a Nissan Pathfinder Tuesday morning after a high-speed chase ended ... as allowed by patrol policy - and executed a pursuit intervention technique ... This story is no longer posted on the web. 

CRASH prompts police chase fears
BBC News - London, England, UK  Aug. 23, 2004
... chief constable to review the force's policy on such chases, after two teenagers died outside the National Ice Centre during a high speed police pursuit.  For the rest of the story, click here. 

DANGEROUS pursuits
Carolina Morning News - Beaufort, SC  Aug. 21, 2004
By Stephanie Ingersoll. Most local law enforcement agencies say they've put the brakes on high speed chases because the pursuits are just too risky. ... For the rest of the story, click here.

Law Enforcement Agencies and their Officers

must lead with Accountability

by Candy Priano

California has a unique law that grants law enforcement agencies blanket immunity from liability, if they simply adopt a pursuit policy. THEY DO NOT HAVE TO FOLLOW THE POLICY, just have one on the books. At this point in time, this unique law that does not put public safety first is untouchable. (See Vehicle Code Section 17000-17004.7)

Jim Phillips, president of PursuitWatch.org, states that "Blanket immunity is untouchable because California Law Enforcement is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the state. Additionally, the endorsement of political candidates by Law Enforcement is a very important element in any campaign. California Law Enforcement would like to frame the whole immunity issue into the simplistic logic of 'If the bad guys had not run, none of this would have happened.' PERIOD. While this is certainly true, it ignores the complexity of pursuits and prevents any rational approach to making them safer and less costly. The scandalous position of California Law Enforcement is that they are powerless to do anything to prevent pursuit deaths and injuries and that is exactly what they do -- nothing."

Kristie's Law, Senate Bill 718, is part of the answer. Kristie's Law is a statewide -- rather than an agency-by-agency -- pursuit policy that restricts chases, allowing officers to chase only violent felons. However, until California lifts blanket immunity, Californians will never know if officers are following their pursuit policy. What else can we do but wonder? Can you think of any other public-safety priority where thoughtful policy is developed, adopted, and then legally ignored? All other law enforcement policies require accountability.

California's police agencies say officers always follow their pursuit policies, but I know from my own experience -- and other accounts of deadly pursuits -- that this is not true. Without accountability, even a restrictive statewide policy may not go far enough in protecting the public, but it is a start in the right direction.

Kristie's Law is similar to the Los Angeles Police Department's pursuit policy. In January 2003, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton made these comments to officers about police pursuit policy in his jurisdiction: "The most significant change is simply this: You can't pursue if the initial contact is for an infraction only. I am not saying we are not going to do our job. If someone breaks the law, we are still committed to apprehending that person. However, we do not want to do it in a way that jeopardizes your safety or the public's. There is an old adage: 'The end does not justify the means.'"

An AP Wire Service story published in 2003 reported the following information: Los Angeles, which had become synonymous with the televised chase, reported more chases than any other major city -- until it prohibited pursuits for minor traffic offenses in 2002. The number of chases dropped by 62 percent, injuries to bystanders dropped 78 percent, injuries to suspects dropped 58 percent and injuries to police dropped about 33 percent. Boston, Chicago, Miami and Seattle are among other major cities that have adopted similar policies with similar success, along with Fresno and Orange County in California, according to Aanestad's survey.

A Ventura County Star Editorial, supporting Kristie's Law and its statewide pursuit policy, states that revised pursuit policies can significantly lower the number of deaths and injuries, saving families immeasurable grief. That has been demonstrated most notably by the Los Angeles Police Department, which banned pursuits for minor infractions in 2003, after an infant boy's arm was severed in a crash resulting from a high-speed police chase in December 2002. The Los Angeles Police Department has since noted a substantial drop in police and bystander injuries. 

Other statistics around the nation show that the adoption of more restrictive pursuit policy decreases the number of high-speed chases, decreases the number of innocent victims killed, AND DOES NOT in fact increase the number of suspects who flee, says Phillips.

In 2004 the Orlando Florida Police Department adopted the most restrictive pursuit policy in the United States where they only chase for violent forcible felonies. A one-year review of the results of the policy change showed that Orlando Florida officers attempted 40,460 traffic stops. 40,353 of these motorists obeyed the officers order to stop and 107 fled. Of the 107 that fled OPD officers pursued 9.

Reported felonies in Orlando actually declined slightly from 2003 to 2004 even though the population increased by more than 3 percent. For more information on the success of this Orlando Florida's restrictive pursuit policy, read the full story in The Orlando Sentinel.

"When a suspect flees, it is the police officer who we depend upon to make the critical life and death decisions that affect public safety, not the fleeing suspect!" Phillips says. "Let's help them make safe decisions by working on a more effective pursuit policy."

Definitely, it is the police, out of necessity, that we must rely on to protect and serve all of us. Pursuit is a dangerous tactic that must be used as a last resort, not the first. Kristie, was killed in a high-speed chase at night in a residential neighborhood. Yes, Kristie was killed because a teenage girl fled, and this girl is responsible for Kristie's death. In addition to the actions of the teenager, the Chico Police Department's pursuit policy is very discretionary, leaving many aspects of a chase up to the officer discretion. Also, the Chico officers violated their own agency's pursuit policy multiple times during this unnecessary and deadly chase of a teenager who had taken her mother's car without permission. At least with Kristie's Law, we can correct policies that do not put public safety first. To read a fact-based analysis of Chico's deadly chase, click here.

In another chase, an innocent woman, Mariline Sacks, was killed March 4, 2004 in San Francisco, and it too was another non-policy pursuit according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle. In February 2001, a mother, Bernice Martinez, was picking up her teenage daughters, Ashley and Christina, and their girl friend, Desiree Guzman, from a Stockton high school. All four were killed in the school zone as police chased a schoolmate. To read about other victims of pursuit, click here.

Geoffrey Alpert, Chairman of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of South Carolina, is a nationally recognized expert on police pursuits and use of force. He says, "While you cannot completely restrict police pursuits, they should be reserved for suspects who have committed violent felonies." 

According to Alpert, the policy standards applied to the evaluation of a pursuit as well as to the decision to continue a pursuit needs to include the following three questions: 

1. If the pursuit were to result in injury or death, would a reasonable person understand why the pursuit occurred or was necessary? 

2. Is the need to immediately catch the suspect more important than the risk created by the pursuit? 

3. Do the dangers created by the pursuit exceed the dangers posed by letting the perpetrator escape? 

Kristie's Law to require a statewide restrictive pursuit policy will save lives and is a step in the right direction for California.



Officer's Actions in Fatal Chase Reviewed

by Rebecca Lopez

(This story includes information about the Dallas Police Department's pursuit policy.)

Dallas police are allowed to pursue suspects for traffic violations and Class C misdemeanors, but other large departments - including Los Angeles - have banned chases unless officers are pursuing a felon.

Dallas Police officials are investigating the actions of officers involved in Monday's deadly high speed chase that left one person dead and several others injured.

The officers were chasing two drug suspects who turned the wrong way up Peak Street in Old East Dallas. The truck they were driving was hit broadside by a van; the vehicles hit and killed Braulio Morales, 60, who was walking along the street when the wreck occurred.

"We saw the truck coming the wrong way up the one-way street," witness Jason Ramsey said. "He was doing about 80 miles an hour and the cop was right behind."

Supervisors are working to determine if the officers followed proper procedure during the short chase. They are looking into why the chase began in the first place, and whether officers should have continued the pursuit.

According to the department's general orders, it is a violation for officers to pursue a violator the wrong way on any one-way street. Officers are also told to call off a chase if it puts the public in danger.

General orders said officers will immediately stop the pursuit when it becomes apparent that the violator will do whatever is necessary to evade the officer.

Said DPD Sgt. Gil Cerda, "The risks ... do they out weigh the risk of harming the public or placing the public at harm's risk?"

Dallas police are allowed to pursue suspects for traffic violations and Class C misdemeanors, but other large departments - including Los Angeles - have banned chases unless officers are pursuing a felon.

Police said it is never easy trying to determine when to chase the bad guys - or when to let them go.

Go to related story: The Dallas Morning News


Policy, Training, Supervision, and Accountability

by Donald Van Blaricom
Ret. Bellevue, Washington State Police Chief

"The absence of accountability in any process for controlling human behavior is a systemic deficiency that clearly demonstrates to all concerned that policy, training, and supervision are really meaningless when there are no consequences for ignoring them." 

The reader may agree that a police vehicular pursuit policy is necessary, and in fact, every law enforcement agency seems to have one.  There are, however, three types of such policies: (1) discretionary, (2) restrictive, or (3) discouraging. A discretionary policy is really no policy at all and leaves decision-making to the ad hoc judgment of whoever happens to be engaged in the pursuit.  The restrictive model incorporates the principle of balancing need against risk, as described by the IACP sample vehicular pursuit policy previously cited herein.  Finally, the discouraging policy essentially prohibits all pursuits and, although in limited use, is not generally favored, as there will always be some circumstances wherein a calculated risk must be taken to pursue for the greater necessity of apprehending an extremely dangerous criminal.

Policy, however, is only the first component of controlling police vehicular pursuits and will not be solely effective.  By example, all law enforcement agencies have deadly force policies, but they are critically reinforced by the other three essential components of training, supervision, and accountability. Without training in what the policy means and how it is to be fulfilled in actual practice, there will be no compliance.  It will simply be a well-meaning document that is neatly catalogued in the General Orders Manual, where it will otherwise only serve to establish civil liability in the aftermath of an uncontrolled pursuit crash. ("This is exactly what happens in California," comment by Candy Priano.)

Training is more than just teaching officers how to drive an emergency vehicle in pursuit and, as with teaching officers how to shoot, pursuit training must encompass equal or greater emphasis on when not to do so as well.  Supervision becomes an active responsibility as soon as a pursuit begins and must be exercised quickly because 50% of all pursuit crashes will occur within the first two minutes (United States Department of Justice Office, 1998), but 70% of pursued drivers can be expected to slow their evasive driving within two blocks on urban streets, if the pursuit is terminated (Alpert, 1996).

Supervision is especially important to provide an objective balance of need versus risk from the perspective of a senior officer not directly involved in the pursuit itself.  The adrenaline dump associated with high-risk exposure is well known to cause tunnel vision, and the pursuing officer can become so focused on "catching the suspect" as to exclude adequate consideration of the inherent dangers to oneself or others (Alpert, 1996).  Perhaps the most important and most frequently missing component of the four criteria for control of police vehicular pursuits is the accountability factor, and this is difficult to understand.  

The absence of accountability in any process for controlling human behavior is a systemic deficiency that clearly demonstrates to all concerned that policy, training, and supervision are really meaningless when there are no consequences for ignoring them.  If for instance, shooters were not held accountable for compliance with deadly force policies, does anyone doubt that we would have many more bad shootings?  The fact is that police vehicular pursuits seriously injure and kill far more innocent third parties than are ever going to be placed at the risk of a police shooting.  Why is that permitted?  Officers are strictly prohibited from firing into a crowd, but they are routinely given the latitude to pursue a stolen car through urban streets against traffic control devices until a collision terminates the chase.  This has happened over and over again throughout the United States and will continue to occur until chief policymakers assert effective administrative control over when and how vehicular pursuits are to be conducted.  Can there be any question that this is a critical public safety issue demanding attention?

Experts: Chico Police Pursuit Policy Outdated

by Larry Mitchell
April 24, 2004

Police experts like professor Geoffrey Alpert and retired police chief D.P. Van Blaricom say pursuit policies like Chico's are old-fashioned and dangerous.

Because of the risk pursuits pose to the public and officers themselves, "hundreds and hundreds" of departments across the United States have adopted restrictive policies, said Alpert, a professor of criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, who has specialized in studying pursuits.

"A lot of departments have restricted (pursuits) because they know it's the right thing to do," he said. He cited departments in Boston, Miami, Memphis, Orlando, the Illinois State Police, among many others. There is a definite trend toward setting policies that spell out what types of suspects police should pursue and what kinds they shouldn't, he said.

According to Van Blaricom, who was a police officer in Bellevue, Wash., for 29 years and served as chief of police for the last 11, the critical question is whether the risks of a pursuit are justified.

"That issue needs to be contemplated and decided in advance by experienced law enforcement administrators, not left to the chance discretion of an officer on the street, who is suddenly faced with someone who will not stop," he wrote in an article for an Illinois law-enforcement journal this year.

In another article, Van Blaricom described how he learned first-hand how risky a pursuit can be. As a 25-year-old patrolman on duty in a rural area in the middle of the night, he chose to chase a driver in a flashy car who was going a little over the speed limit. Van Blaricom suspected the car might be stolen (it wasn't). The flashy car raced away, hit speeds of up to 130 and plowed into another vehicle. A woman died, her husband was seriously hurt, and the fleeing driver himself was killed.

It's estimated more than 350 people die each year in the United States because of pursuits. Many, many more are injured.

Because of the risks, Alpert and Van Blaricom say police should only pursue suspects in serious crimes. Alpert cites studies showing between 55 and 63 percent of chases are started over traffic violations.

About a third of all pursuits involve stolen vehicles, according to Alpert, who said there are better ways to catch such offenders.

Studies show the beliefs that at the end of a chase police are apt to find "a body in the trunk" and that if police restrict pursuits many more drivers will flee are utter myths, the two experts say.

Many departments now only pursue over "violent felonies," Alpert said. That's a criterion he favors.

Police chiefs in Florida are among the leaders in reforming pursuit policies he said. "The chief in Orlando did something very unique. He set up a citizens' committee (on pursuits) and said, I'll do what you tell me.' "

 Published in the Chico Enterprise-Record April 24, 2004

Police-chase limits in Orlando succeed,

civilian panel finds

By Henry Pierson Curtis
Sentinel Staff Writer 
April 19, 2005

A national authority on police pursuits says
"The numbers show crime doesn't rise."

Orlando's strict policy limiting police pursuits passed its first-year review on Monday without a surge in fleeing criminals thumbing their noses at police.

Members of a civilian-police panel who threw out the old chase rules congratulated themselves by calling their work a "model policy" for the rest of the United States.

"The two myths that we see everywhere is that if you don't chase, everybody's going to run . . . and the crime rate is going to escalate," said Geoff Alpert, a nationally recognized authority on pursuits and policy liability, who consulted the Orlando panel.

"It's really impressive; the numbers speak for themselves.

In the 12 months that ended March 8, Orlando police chased suspects seven times compared with four chases in the two months preceding the policy, records show.

During the year, 107 potential chases were called off when motorists refused to stop. The number represented 0.0026 percent of the police department's 40,460 traffic stops, records show.

Two fleeing suspects were injured in two crashes during the year-long study, compared with four injuries in fives crashes in the preceding 14 months.

Under the policy, police can only chase someone suspected of a violent forcible felony, such as murder, armed robbery and armed sexual assault.

Police assigned to patrol duties initially objected to the restrictions but the "street officer" assigned to the panel predicted his colleagues will understand they are safer now than last year.

"The officers are going to see not everyone who flees from them just robbed a 7-Eleven down the street," said Officer Shawn Dunlap.

Since 1996, high-speed driving and chases killed at least two Orlando police officers and at least two Orange County deputies. Also killed were at least one suspect and one innocent motorist.

About 400 people die in pursuits every year across the U.S. The number of injuries to officers, motorists and pedestrians is not known, but civil lawsuits over chase-related injuries and deaths remain the biggest liability cost to police, Alpert said.

The tougher standard reflects what Police Chief Mike McCoy called Orlando's "community standard," the amount of threat Orlando residents are willing to risk for their safety.

"We do it for you," McCoy said of prohibiting chases of shoplifters, car thieves and red light runners through neighborhood streets or down Interstate 4. "We're still catching the bad guys."

One of the policy's most significant changes was ordering every officer who aborts a chase to shut off the emergency lights and either stop the patrol car or turn and head the other way, said Stanley Stone, a Valencia Community College administrator, who chaired the panel.

Every police department in Orange County, except the Sheriff's Office, has adopted the Orlando policy, according to interviews. The Sheriff's Office revised its policy in 2003 but still permits some chases of suspects in nonviolent felony crimes.

Copyright © 2006, Orlando Sentinel.com

You've got to think about how you can out-think these guys rather than how you can out-muscle them. High-speed chases remain fraught with danger.

The Indianapolis Star, July 2004


Pursuit Policies
by Geoffrey Alpert
  1. If the pursuit were to result in injury or death, would a reasonable person understand why the pursuit occurred or was necessary?

  2. Is the need to immediately catch the suspect more important than the risk created by the pursuit?

  3. Do the dangers created by the pursuit exceed the dangers posed by letting the perpetrator escape?

    And finally, the policy standards applied to the evaluation of a pursuit as well as to the decision to continue a pursuit needs to include the following three questions:

The objectives of police pursuits are to apprehend violators, who refuse to voluntarily comply with the law requiring them to stop, without unnecessarily endangering officers, citizens or property.
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