Time for a reality check
While driving home it occurred to me this was the first time that I can remember that I've called in a drunk driver while not on patrol in a marked unit--just simply as an average everyday citizen. That's exactly what I was at the time, not being a sworn officer, but a veteran auxiliary officer volunteer. What I found was very interesting, and it opened my eyes as to how we in law enforcement perceive, or can be lead into perceiving, what role the public can or should take to assist us in fighting crime. I completed a reserve academy, basically a shortened version of a full time academy, and unless I was sleeping at the time, I don't recall ever being taught how to follow a drunk driver. Identify the signs of a potential drunk driver, yes; how to initiate a traffic stop as a sworn officer, yes; how to safely follow one, no. With that thought in mind, it occurred to me how the general public must feel when they are told by a dispatcher, "thank you for the information however we don't want you to follow the DUI suspect any longer, we'll take it from here," which at least in major metro areas such as Los Angeles, often results in never finding the suspect. The size of the cities and number of possible routes via interconnecting roadways provides too many possibilities.
You get what you ask for
Most sworn officers, in a similar situation as I experienced, would have probably identified themselves to the dispatcher as an off duty officer following a DUI suspect. In doing so, they would immediately be treated as a fellow officer and would probably never be asked to not follow the suspect. However in my situation, I found it very interesting to see how the average citizen is treated, knowing full well I have no special training that would assist me in following the DUI suspect. Other than that, whatever risk there is in following a very drunk driver, I was exposed to it the same as everyone, law enforcement experience or not.
The question becomes, when law enforcement asks why citizens don't get involved or "volunteer" to step forward and help with suspect information, being a witness, etc., shouldn't we be asking ourselves, "what could we be doing better or different to embrace the public so they feel they are part of our team?" Instead of "us versus them," citizens and police versus the criminals?
Asking a citizen not to follow a stolen vehicle or a vehicle just used in a crime, where the suspect could be armed, is certainly understandable. However as we know, not every crime in progress being reported is as dangerous, and there are times when citizens who are willing to volunteer to assist us can be a good partner. They should be embraced instead of being shunned aside. With violent crime on the increase again in many cities, and the possible solution of putting more police on the streets being years away, it only makes sense to find ways to better partner with citizens who are willing to volunteer their assistance. Taking a step back and reassessing how 911 calls are being treated and responded to by your dispatchers and PSAP operators is a good first step to opening up a potentially vast and untapped market of willing and able "on demand citizen volunteers" who want to help law enforcement by being part of the solution and not the problem.