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California legislators need to pass vehicular police pursuit legislation
 that will prevent a new generation of innocent victims of police pursuits. 
A study on police pursuit practices  
Illinois Law Enforcement Executive Forum

"If, for instance, officers 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 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?"

Control of Police Vehicular Pursuit
by D.P. Van Blaricom, Police Practices Expert,
MPA, FBI-NA, Chief of Police (Ret.)

Law enforcement professionals unanimously agree that police vehicular pursuits are dangerous and that they must be controlled (Alpert, Kenney, Dunham, & Smith, 2000), but questions remain as to how dangerous they are and how they should be controlled.  That debate has been ongoing for a long time and continues unabated today.

Click on subtitles for full text. 

The CHP, however, interpreted the results of their study to make the questionable policy judgment that, "Undoubtedly, innocent people may be injured or killed because an officer chooses to pursue a suspect, but this risk is necessary to avoid the even greater loss that would occur (emphasis supplied) if law enforcement agencies were not allowed to aggressively pursue violators."  That philosophical statement best represents the demarcation in thinking that still exists within the law enforcement community 20 years later.

This article takes the position that the risk is not always necessary, and there is no reason to believe that a greater loss would occur from taking less risk. There are essentially two prevailing myths of the pro-chase faction: (1) if a driver runs from the police, he or she must have committed a more serious crime that will be discovered after apprehension and (2) if we adopt a policy of not chasing everyone who runs, everyone will run.

Policy, Training, Supervision, and Accountability
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.)

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.  

Examples of Deadly Pursuits
Although several specific studies have analyzed the issue of risk in police vehicular pursuits, the following examples may further serve to lend emphasis to the human dimension of real incidents:

 A rural deputy sheriff pursued a stolen car driven by two youths at high speed into curves that he knew could not be negotiated until the car left the roadway and went through a home killing the elderly woman inside and the two teenagers in the car.

 A highway patrol officer pursued a stolen car through a school zone at high speed until it struck another car broadside and killed the honor student, who was driving to school.

 An urban police officer refused to terminate a pursuit, after being ordered to do so, and the pursued driver hit a young woman's car head on, causing her to be a quadriplegic in a vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

 A city officer terminated pursuit of a suspected stolen car that was later observed by a rural deputy sheriff, who initiated and continued pursuit until a head-on crash occurred that seriously injured an off-duty city officer driving home.

 A highway patrol officer pursued a motorcyclist for speeding until the officer himself struck an oncoming vehicle head-on and was killed at the age of twenty-three.

 A small town police officer saw kids drinking in a public park and pursued their pickup into an accident, where the unsecured passenger was ejected from the open truck bed and killed.

 A mid-size city police officer pursued a stolen car through red traffic signals at over 100 mph until it hit a young woman head-on and placed her in a vegetative state for life.

 A city officer pursued a shoplifter through a crosswalk, where a seven-year-old boy on his way to school was killed.

 A highway patrol officer, in pursuit of motorcyclists, ran a stop sign at high speed and hit another vehicle killing a woman and her child -- the damage was so extensive that the investigating city officer had been on the scene for 15 minutes before he realized that the deceased were his wife and daughter.

These are just a few of the actual cases of what continues to occur nationwide. The United States Supreme Court has warned, "The police officer deciding whether to give chase must balance on the one hand the need to stop a suspect and, on the other, the high-speed threat to everyone, be they suspects, their passengers, other drivers, or bystanders" (Lewis v. Sacramento County, 1998).  Surely, law enforcement administrators and chief policymakers can expect no less from their officers, 10.5 of whom are killed in vehicular pursuits on average every year, or for the public at large, who are those innocent third parties.

Many needless injuries and deaths from police vehicular pursuits can be prevented by adopting a restrictive policy that balances a need for immediate apprehension of a suspect against the risks of a pursuit, training of officers in when and when not to engage in a pursuit, supervision of officers actually engaged in a pursuit, and holding officers accountable for failing to comply with the policy, training, and supervision that has been provided to them.  We cannot continue to accept the loss of innocent life as being an acceptable casualty rate or a cost of doing business.  "Protect and serve" implies much more than a fatalistic acceptance of what can and should be reasonably prevented by responsible police administrators, who are invested with the policy and oversight authority to control police vehicular pursuits.
Advocates for safer and smarter police pursuit thank Chief Donald P. Van Blaricom for sharing his insight and experience with us.  When the Chief was a patrol officer, he was involved in a vehicular pursuit that killed an innocent victim.  He has been pursuing safety in police vehicular pursuits ever since.  The Chief does not just talk about the victims of police pursuits, he truly cares about the victims and shows it. Chief Van Blaricom was the first peace officer to send the Prianos a letter and his article:
  "He Flees—To Pursue or Not to Pursue?  THAT is the Question."


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