The Orange County Sheriff's Office general order sets out specific criteria as to threshold crimes for which a vehicle pursuit can be undertaken. "Those are violent forcible felonies as defined in Florida State Statutes," Gillespie explains. "Beyond that, the safety of all involved is constantly monitored by the deputies, their supervisors and the watch commander. Significant factors when considering a vehicle pursuit include vehicular and pedestrian traffic, the ability to maintain contact with the supervisor, and many others. The list is suggestive and never meant to override the immediate concern of the deputy — to ensure safety."
The pursuit policy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was issued almost 30 years ago. "Department leadership, as well as the Pursuit Review Board and members of the Precision Driver Training Unit are involved in updates," explains Capt. Travis Yates. "Recent revisions conform to the IACP model pursuit policy adopted in 1996. We look at the policy each year and evaluate it. That's important for every agency to do. While we haven't changed it recently, we look at officers' actions and pursuit statistics to determine whether it needs to be modified."
If a pursuit moves into a situation that might endanger others, the officer and supervisor can terminate it. "Our policy also mandates the termination of a pursuit if our helicopter is present," he says. "This has worked very well. As officers back away from the pursuit, the suspect will normally slow down and stop. The helicopter crew will then relay that location to officers on the perimeter."
In 2005, the Tulsa Police Department terminated more than 19 percent of pursuits: officers terminated 5 percent, supervisors 5 percent and 9 percent were ended by the presence of the helicopter.
"We must take the issue of police pursuits and police collisions seriously," Yates advises. "The most dangerous part of an officer's job is not the calls he goes to but the car he drives. Vehicle collisions and pursuits are killing more officers than anything else."
He adds, "Our mentality must change. Pursuit and collision deaths do not have to be a price that we pay. It shouldn't take the media pressing the issue or the death of a civilian for departments to change the way they do business."
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has had a written pursuit policy since the 1960s. "It's been revised continually and modified to comply with any legislative changes that have occurred," says Sgt. Robert Reid. "In addition to department personnel, the LAPD reports to a civilian oversight committee known as the Police Commission. It has the final review of any policy changes."
He mentions that in 1994 the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training developed a set of pursuit guidelines to assist California agencies in developing individual pursuit policies. The policy was revised in April 2005 to incorporate the use of tire deflation strips and the Pursuit Intervention Technique (PIT) as options to officers in pursuit. "At the same time, the Police Commission modified our policy to exclude going into pursuit of a violator solely for a traffic infraction," he says.
While an officer can initiate a pursuit, as it continues the assigned supervisor provides management oversight to determine whether to continue or stop the pursuit. "In California we also use the Balance Test as a guide," Reid explains. "The Balance Test can best be described as balancing the seriousness of the crime and the danger the pursuit poses to the public. This decision-making process is taught through the use of scenario training and testing."
Training is vital
"Police pursuits are the most dangerous action an officer can take. It is one of the few police actions that not only place the officer and suspect in danger but every civilian on the roadway as well," Yates says. "Departments must provide driver training on a regular basis and ensure that their pursuit policy provides the safest environment for officers and citizens."
In Tulsa, officers participate in a 10-hour course every 24 months. The Tulsa Police Precision Driving Unit has 25 part-time driving instructors and conducts more than 50 training days per year for police officers in the region. "Upon an at-fault collision, a driving instructor will ride with the officer on duty, as well as giving he or she a full-day driving course," says Yates, who both owns and moderates www.policedriving.com.