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Incident analysis: Critical decisions and tactics after a pursuit turns into an assault

A suspect crashes into a motorcyclist during a pursuit, then exits his vehicle and attempts to attack the motorcyclist with a knife. Here are eight considerations from this incident


Sacramento Sheriff

On November 11, 2022, a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer attempted to stop a vehicle for a traffic infraction. The driver refused to stop, and a pursuit was initiated with speeds reaching over 120 mph. A Sacramento County K-9 officer, a deputy and another CHP squad joined in the pursuit down the busy freeway.

The suspect’s vehicle swerved into a motorcycle leaving the motorcyclist lying injured in the roadway of the freeway. The suspect lost control of the vehicle, went off the roadway and struck a berm, stopping the vehicle.

The suspect exited his vehicle opening the blade of a large folding knife, while skipping toward the unconscious motorcyclist with the apparent intent of stabbing him. The K-9 deputy fired two rounds and the suspect fell to his back. The suspect then got to his feet and lunged toward the motorcyclist again. All three officers on scene opened fire.

The officers then secured the suspect and began rendering aid to the downed motorcyclist. The suspect and the motorcyclist were transported to the hospital by ambulance. The motorcyclist survived. The suspect died of his wounds.

After watching the following video of the incident, let’s identify eight lessons we can learn from this chaotic situation.

Lessons to consider

1. Follow the leader

Anytime you are involved with a pursuit one simple rule should apply: Follow the leader. Unless there is some mitigating reason to pass other units, stay where you are.

There are several times when you may want to change positions in a pursuit. Typically, a K-9 unit may be moved up closer to the front to deal with a fleeing suspect. A squad designed to go faster than other squads may take the lead for obvious reasons. When driving in an unfamiliar area an officer may relinquish the lead to someone who knows the area or the roads better.

Pursuits are dangerous and unpredictable enough without fellow officers complicating the situation. When you are involved in a pursuit you are concerned with the vehicles in front of you. That focus may not allow an officer to see a squad car coming up alongside them. That could result in a collision if the squad in front moves to change lanes or avoid oncoming traffic.

2.Communicate, confirm, then move

If you are going to change positions, communicate your intent. Make sure other units have heard and understood what your intentions are, and only then move.

3. If you are going to work together, train together

Knowing how everyone on your team is going to play is critical for success. You may wear different uniforms, but you are still on the same team.

4. Remember the basic goals, when chaos strikes

The officers are prepared for a “normal” pursuit. Suddenly, there is a crash and vehicle parts and a motorcyclist go flying. These must be avoided, and the motorcyclist must be protected from oncoming traffic. Proper positioning for a high risk stop formation isn’t possible. Follow these steps:

  • Make the scene as safe as possible. Position your squad or motorcycle in the best position to protect you, and the downed motorcyclist.
  • Consider the priority of danger. Deal with the situation in the order of greatest danger to the public and you.
  • Secure the scene.
  • Treat the injured.
  • Crime scene preservation once the scene is safe.

5. Crossfire

Because of the crash and the movement of the suspect, the officers end up in a crossfire situation. If you see that occurring, sound off by yelling, “Crossfire” to notify other officers. Take whatever action is required to eliminate it, whether that is moving out of the line of fire or getting behind cover.

6. The suspect decides when it’s over, not you

A suspect remains a threat until they are no longer a threat. Just because a suspect goes down, doesn’t mean they are out of the fight.

7. Is it safe?

Whenever you are practicing your firearms skills, always end your shooting sequence with the question of “Is it safe?” While maintaining your sight picture on your threat ask, “Is it safe?” By asking that question, you create time to assess the situation, and it reminds you to check your surroundings for additional threats before holstering your weapon.

A range habit of holstering your gun immediately after shooting could be, and has, proven fatal in the past.

8. Suspect weapon soccer

Avoid kicking the suspect’s weapons if possible. It is an inanimate object. Where is it going to go and what is it going to do if you leave it where it is? Controlling the suspect should be your priority. If the weapon is so close to the suspect that they may gain control of it, have one officer provide cover while another picks it up and secures it.

Consider these eight lessons to make yourself a better prepared officer.

In February 2014, Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a Minnesota Peace Officer after more than 25 years of service (beginning in 1988). During his career, he served as a patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T., use of force and firearms instructor. He was a full-time law enforcement instructor at Alexandria Technical & Community College in Alexandria, Minnesota for 28 years. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University and a Masters Degree in Education from Southwest State University.