One law enforcement agency that keeps improving its pursuit policy is the Dallas (Texas) Police Department. "We've had a pursuit policy for more than 20 years," says Lt. Randall Blankenbaker of the Dallas PD's Planning and Accreditation Unit. "It has evolved over time to the current policy, which was implemented in June of this year. The change was influenced by a desire to increase officer and citizen safety during high-speed pursuits."
The reason for the latest change was to restrict pursuits to these circumstances:
- When the officer has probable cause to believe that a felony involving the use or threat of physical force or violence has been, or is about to be, committed,
- and the officer reasonably believes that the immediate need to apprehend the offender outweighs the risk to any person of collision, injury or death,
- or to assist another law enforcement agency that has initiated a pursuit under the same circumstances.
"While it's not possible to accurately know what groups were involved in past changes, this most recent update was formulated by a panel of lieutenants," Blankenbaker recalls. The chief of police reviewed and gave his final approval, he says. The panel also looked at other police agencies' policies, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) model policy, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) standards, pursuit research papers, books, etc. It then conducted focus groups among Dallas PD officers and supervisors and studied Dallas PD pursuit statistics for 2004 and 2005.
The policy states, "The officer must always base the decision to pursue on probable cause, known facts and circumstances that can be articulated by the officer." The officer is expected to consider "such things as the nature and seriousness of the offense, or suspected offense, and be consciously aware of weather conditions, traffic control devices, character of the neighborhood (residential or business), traffic volume, and road and vehicle conditions."
When an officer initiates a pursuit and calls the dispatcher, the dispatcher will assign a field supervisor, who monitors the pursuit and can join it, if necessary. That supervisor also can discontinue the pursuit if the known circumstances or facts don't justify continuing it, actions increase the danger to the officers or the public, or "the risk to any person of injury, collision or death outweighs the immediate need to apprehend the offender." It's also the supervisor who authorizes the deployment of tire deflation devices. (See "Tire deflation technology" on Page 40.)
Other agencies update theirs
The Orange County Sheriff's Office in Orlando, Florida, regularly updates its policy governing the conduct of deputies related to vehicle apprehensions and pursuits written in 1995. The most recent sets of revisions were in 2003 and 2006, according to Cpl. Tim Gillespie of the agency's training division.
"In May 2005, a person with an extensive criminal history was driving a stolen vehicle and attempted to evade Orange County deputies," Gillespie recalls. "At one point he failed to stop for a red light at an intersection, striking a vehicle containing a brother and sister, killing them. In an effort to leave no question about the duty to all citizens, the vehicle apprehension/pursuit policy was again reviewed, revised and amended.
"For the 2003 revision, we used a committee of several Orange County Sheriff's Office subject matter experts and a community activist whose daughter was tragically killed by a felon being pursued for aggravated battery with a firearm in 2001," he continues. "For the 2006 revision, portions of definitions were crafted after the IACP model definition of vehicle pursuit. Several other law enforcement agencies' policies were culled for a thorough understanding of the topic. A final product was submitted to Orange County's administrative staff and reviewed by in-house subject matter experts."
He notes that after training completed in March, feedback from those in attendance resulted in some minor changes, so the new revisions have been in affect since April.