How to develop a cross-jurisdictional pursuit policy memorandum of agreement

Police pursuits that move through multiple jurisdictions are difficult to manage, but advance planning can help mitigate hazards

Vehicle pursuits are high-risk, high-profile affairs. They happen out in the open, where everyone can see and, if they get out of hand, they place both officers and citizens at risk. When police pursuits move through multiple jurisdictions, they are difficult, at best, to manage, but potential hazards can be mitigated with some advance planning.

Include everyone

Multi-jurisdictional planning works best if the various agency executives are acquainted and comfortable with one another. One way to facilitate this sort of relationship is to hold regular meetings, whether there is a specific agenda or not. One rural sheriff’s department I know of holds a monthly luncheon at their headquarters, attended by the chiefs, sheriffs and allied personnel from two counties around. The jail kitchen prepares a buffet lunch of cold cuts and salads, and everyone chips in five dollars to defer food costs. There’s nothing fancy or expensive about this, but it gets the job done.

A Phoenix police officer is parked in Indian Steele Park Friday, July 27, 2007 in Phoenix.
A Phoenix police officer is parked in Indian Steele Park Friday, July 27, 2007 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A cross-jurisdictional pursuit plan (CJPP) should involve everyone within its geographical scope, including agencies that do not allow their officers to engage in pursuits. A school or college police department might not do pursuits, but a pursuit could end up on the grounds of one of their facilities. Having officers who are in the loop on both procedures and communications can aid in staging and preparing measures like tire spikes or roadblocks.

Evaluate communications

Communications between officers participating in the pursuit is critical, so it’s also important to involve all of the dispatch centers, and train their personnel in the procedures. If there is not already some way for officers to communicate directly over their radios, then some cross-linking system is needed. This is often more complicated than just installing a common channel in everyone’s radios, as many agencies still use legacy VHF/UHF channels that are not cross-compatible.

Review air support availability

Air support can take much of the risk out of a pursuit by allowing ground units to hold back until the suspect vehicle is in an area where it can be readily contained. Of course, not everyone has air support, and of those agencies that do have it, they may not have it functional 24/7. Realistic planning means making some conservative assumptions about when and where air support is likely to be available, and not presupposing that there will always be a helicopter to track the pursuit.

Leverage available technology

A cross-jurisdictional pursuit plan should also review any pursuit management technologies being deployed by responding agencies. GPS location and tracking technologies can assist agencies in achieving a seamless and safe response when a pursuit crosses jurisdictional boundaries. All responding agencies and dispatch should be aware of how GPS location information will be disseminated during a pursuit if not all departments currently have that technology in place. The individual agency policies in place for deployment of that technology should also be reviewed during this time.

Managing the pursuit

Command is another consideration, and one that can be politically sensitive. Generally, command of a pursuit remains with the agency that initiated the pursuit until they choose to relinquish it. The decision to relinquish might be based on distance, vehicle capability, or officer expertise.

There is considerable variation, but highway patrol/state police troopers typically receive superior and more emergency vehicle driving training than local cops, and they may have more experience in driving at pursuit speeds. Although the city cop or county deputy might like to finish the pursuit he started, the wiser decision could be to allow the highway patrol to step in and do what it does best.

Unless there is some compelling reason to the contrary, pursuits should be limited to no more than three police vehicles, one of which should be operated by a supervisor. The lead vehicle maintains contact, the secondary calls the pursuit over the radio and the supervisor keeps everyone’s head in the game and gets superfluous units out of it.

The CJPP should make it clear that whoever has command of the pursuit has the authority to direct officers involved in it, regardless of what agency they work for or their rank. Anyone who is unwilling to accept this has no business being involved in the pursuit.

If a pursuit begins with one agency and it taken over by another, the officer initiating the pursuit will need to be involved in charging the suspect(s) when the pursuit concludes. This doesn’t mean that he or she has to stay with the pursuit for its entire course. When the pursuit terminates, the officer can drive at normal speeds to the termination site, or just meet the arresting officers at whatever jail the suspects are booked into.

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