Law enforcement pursuits: Managing the risks (Part 1)

A Law Enforcement Pursuit is one of the most dangerous performance skills that a police officer can do. Vehicle related incidents are currently killing police at a higher rate than felonious assaults with weapons.

Pursuit related deaths of law enforcement officers in 2003 are on pace to be the highest in twenty years. Current data suggest that 40 percent of all pursuits in the United States end in a collision; 20 percent result in an injury and approximately 1 percent ends in death or serious injury. Police agencies must do all they can to manage the contemporary risks associated with a police pursuit.

Most law enforcement agencies have not taken adequate steps to manage these risks. There are four issues that perpetuate the dangers of pursuits within law enforcement agencies:

  • There is a lack of training.
  • There is a lack of an effective pursuit policy.
  • There is a lack in utilizing the proper technology.
  • There is an improper mentality by the police officer and administrator.

Officers with the potential to engage in a pursuit should be required to attend mandatory training on a yearly basis. It would be unheard of to not require officers to qualify each year with their service handgun. The pursuit training that is required in most basic academies is a start but what about the fifteen-year veteran that has not been given any additional pursuit training? The typical police officer is given a 2-5 day school in their basic academy on driving. Maybe 4-8 hours of that was spent on pursuit training. With the inundation of modern academy information, does that training block on pursuits come into play five to ten years later when the officer is involved in the real deal? Driving, just like firearm proficiency is a diminished skill. Without continued practice and training, you will lose the skills that you were taught in the academy.

The State of California has taken measures to correct the training deficiency currently present in many police departments. The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training requires that an officer take two hours of pursuit training per year. Middle managers and above must take one hour per year. This is a legislative requirement and a very good model for other states and police departments to follow.

There should be an emphasis on pursuit training within all law enforcement agencies. Felonious assaults have been dramatically reduced through the aggressive officer safety programs of the last decade. At what point will the police profession deal with the overall lack in pursuit training?

Police departments must have an effective policy on pursuits. The current trend in progressive departments is to have restrictive policies on pursuits. A pursuit policy should be specific, have accountability, and place supervisors in independent roles as monitors. In addition, the apprehension of a suspect in a pursuit must outweigh the danger it is creating to the public. A sound pursuit policy must be completely understood and followed to be effective. Mandatory reporting and the evaluation of each pursuit will serve as a check and balance to ensure that the pursuit policy is appropriate and followed by officers and supervisors. A sound pursuit policy closely monitored and subsequently followed by officers will be effective in reducing collisions and deaths associated with pursuits.

In 1999, The State of Minnesota mandated that every police agency adopt a pursuit policy that met the basic requirements as set forth by the Minnesota Statutes. This legislative mandate states that the chief law enforcement officer of every state and local law enforcement agency must not only establish a written policy but it must also be enforced. This ensures that every agency conforms to strict pursuit guidelines. Minnesota’s mandated pursuit policy is a great example for other states to follow.

In Part 2 of this month's column we'll look at two additional topics within this important subject: Technology, Mental Aspect. And I'll also give you links to websites in which you can find additional resources.


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