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What Is It Like To Be in a Police Chase?

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Tim Dees is a retired police officer and freelance writer. He is a columnist at PoliceOne.com, a member of the Public Safety Writers Association, and the author of "The Truth About Cops," published by Hyperink Press.

It's exhilarating to the point of being dangerously intoxicating. If the officer doing the driving doesn't keep his wits about him, he acquires tunnel vision and a sense of rage that the fleeing driver does not stop and is endangering others. The officer can easily disregard the hazard of the pursuit itself, especially if the pursuit continues into congested streets where there is a greater likelihood of a collision between the fleeing vehicle or the patrol car and an uninvolved vehicle or pedestrian. The officer has a duty to constantly weigh the risk of the pursuit against the gravity of the reason for it.

Most pursuits begin with a relatively petty traffic violation and a failure to yield to the officer's lights and siren. The reason the driver tries to evade the stop may be as trivial as not having a driver's license and as serious as having a dead body in the trunk of the car, and everything in between. Most commonly, the car is stolen, or the driver is intoxicated or wanted on an arrest warrant.

If the officer allows himself to be sucked in by the excitement of the pursuit, he can lose track of the justification for it and prosecute it beyond reasonable limits. It's also common for the officer to be in a state of rage when the pursuit ends, so much that he uses excessive force against the driver of the fleeing car. Some agencies, with good reason, have policies in place that keep the primary officer in the pursuit from making contact with the pursued when the pursuit comes to an end. It's often better to have a relatively disinterested officer take the suspects into custody, so as to avoid an overreaction that will bring unnecessary injury, civil lawsuits, and a possible dismissal of the case.

A best practice in a pursuit is to limit the police vehicles in the chase to no more than three, with the lead officer being the primary, the second vehicle following and handling communications, and the third handling the physical apprehension when the pursuit concludes. Unless the officers use good discipline, the pursuit can devolve into a parade of police cars chasing a single vehicle, with the evader choosing the route and dictating the conditions.

Measures such as "spike strips" help to curtail pursuits by deflating the tires of the pursued vehicle, but a determined evader will keep driving when he is down to the rims. Deployment of spike strips has its own hazards. In 2011, five U.S. law enforcement officers were killed while attempting to deploy these.

Probably the best tool to have during a pursuit is an aircraft capable of tracking the fleeing vehicle and reporting its route and location. Properly coordinated, the ground units can appear to abandon the pursuit, waiting for the suspect vehicle to drive to an area where it can be pinned in and stopped. However, most law enforcement agencies don't have access to these very expensive resources.

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