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In Pursuit of Justice 1

In Pursuit of Justice

Jake J. Koppenhaver

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In Pursuit of Justice

Police pursuits have always been a fascination of the entertainment media, from popular

fictional television series such as Starsky & Hutch and CHiPs and the reality series COPS, to the

blockbuster movies Gone in 60 Seconds, Bad Boyz, and The French Connection. This

phenomenon has even influenced top sales video games for games like Need for Speed: Hot

Pursuit and the Grand Theft Auto series. It seems as though almost no good piece of action

entertainment is complete without a chase scene. The issue of police pursuits has come into

different light in recent years due in part to the rise in police pursuits and casualties relating to

them across the nation, and the globe, which has become a focus of the news media and several

police watchdog organizations. Many claim that pursuits are too dangerous to conduct, citing

incidents which have resulted in injuries and the loss of life, and have presented startling

statistics on which to base the support for “No Pursuit Policies.” Although vehicle pursuits are

dangerous, as they place those involved in jeopardy, they are vital to the apprehension of

suspects and the overall safety of society and should encourage agencies to better train and

prepare their personnel, not be eliminated altogether.

Kristie Priano was a fifteen year old honors student in Chico, California. One evening

while on the way to a basketball game her family’s van was struck by a vehicle on the side

Kristie was sitting on. The impact was devastating, crushing her brain stem. This led to serious

swelling in her brain—known as brain hemorrhaging—and ultimately her death soon after

(Associated Press, 2004). The other car, a small SUV, was being pursued as a stolen vehicle after

the driver’s mother called the Chico Police Department and reported that her teenage daughter

took the vehicle without permission. The Priano family started an organization called Kristie’s

Law and have become one of the staunchest opposing parties of police pursuits, which has seen

partial success in SB-719 in California (Kristie’s Law web site).

In Pursuit of Justice 3 was started by Jim Phillips after his daughter Sarah Marie was killed in

2001 during a police chase in Florida. According to this web site, 40 percent of police chases end

in collisions, of which 20 percent result in injury and one percent in death. He also reports that

fewer than 20 percent of vehicle pursuits begin due to a serious felony, indicating that the rest are

being initiated due to minor offenses such as speeding or theft (2003). An example of this trend

is the case of a Hamilton County, Ohio Sheriff Deputy’s chase of a teenage subject due to theft of

fuel. The teen left the station whose attendant reported the vehicle to police. The vehicle was

pursued and eventually ended when the teenage driver struck and killed a 52 year old pedestrian

(Wood, 2004).

Tragedies such as these make it easy for one to see the passion behind those who

advocate for No Pursuit Policies. Those who are killed each year as a result of pursuits are

parents and children, brothers and sisters, friends and partners. Even those who have perished

behind the wheel of the fleeing vehicle or police cruisers attempting to apprehend suspects are

mourned by countless family members and friends. Human life is precious, and anything society

can do to help preserve it is a worthwhile effort. Police pursuits are, however, part of those acts

in an attempt to preserve life. Law enforcement officers are tasked with bringing criminal

offenders to justice, which is often a difficult job. Many criminals do not willfully submit

themselves into custody and must be pursued in order to be apprehended.

Ask any police administrator about a current liability issue and they are likely to bring up

police pursuit policies. One official definition of a pursuit, given by Corporal J. Thompson of the

Bentonville Police Department, is “an event which occurs when an officer operating a police

vehicle attempts to stop a vehicle by activating both the [emergency] lights and siren, and the

driver of the pursued vehicle tries to avoid capture by high speed driving or other evasive

tactics.” (2005) This definition, while agency-specific, sums up how a pursuit is initiated. He
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explains that most of the vehicle pursuits he has been involved in during his career have shown

suspects fleeing due to outstanding criminal warrants, driving a stolen vehicle, being intoxicated,

or having illegal substances in their possession. He further states that, “if the violator knows that

the police officer attempting to stop him is restricted from chasing him, the violator will simply

attempt to elude the officer.” (2005) Van Blaricom (2003) holds a different view on the topic of

this policy:

The prevailing myths of the chase faction are essentially two: first, if a driver runs from

the police, he must have committed a more serious crime that will be discovered after

apprehension and second, if we adopt a policy of not chasing everyone who runs,

everyone will run. As with many honestly held beliefs, there are simply no facts to

support those strongly held assumptions. To the contrary, it has been demonstrated that

there is neither an increase in vehicular flight from the police that can be attributed to

the adoption of a more restrictive pursuit policy.

Van Blaricom cites a lack of facts in the belief many officers have regarding not pursuing,

mainly due to the fact that nearly every agency has a pursuit policy of some sort whether it is

severely or otherwise limited. One could ascertain by the position of a general police department

that if a No Pursuit Policy was enacted in full a city could view their law enforcement agency as

incompetent and not doing their job. In Washington D.C. in 2004, Metro Police dealt with a rash

of car thefts and fatality collisions involving teens stealing these vehicles. According to Dao

(2004), many residents and media outlets thought that the teens were stealing vehicles, seeing it

as an opportunity due to the knowledge that police officers were not allowed to chase for that

crime. Unfortunately, this debate goes on as most of the beliefs are based on conjecture and

opinion instead of years of prepared reports and statistics.

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Most states regulate the pursuit policies of the agencies they contain. Pennsylvania, for

example, requires all law enforcement agencies in the state to conform to a set of general

guidelines when it comes to chasing vehicles (Official PA web site, 2007). These guidelines are

unpublished and considered confidential due to its value to the criminal element, however The

International Chiefs of Police Association release a sample policy in 1996, outlining the

following issues (PA PowerPort, 2007): Road and weather conditions (Both of these factors can

be extremely important in mentally factoring speed, steering, acceleration, etc., just as with

normal traffic driving); Traffic and its population on the roadway (Pursuits differ greatly

depending on the location and population density of the immediate area); Capabilities of patrol

vehicles (While typical police vehicles such as the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor,

Chevrolet Impala Police Package, and the Dodge Charger are well suited for pursuit applications,

the exact condition of the vehicle such as tire treads, brakes, steering, and weight distribution

must be taken into account by the driver); Capabilities and condition of the fleeing vehicle and

state of the driver (the above conditions apply to the fleeing vehicle as well, along with the

driver’s emotional state, whether they have been drinking or are high on drug’s, etc.); “An

acceptable balance between the capture of fleeing suspects and the responsibility of law

enforcement to protect the general public…” (An acceptable balance may include taking into

account the seriousness of the crime and danger the suspects pose if free versus the danger that

the pursuit poses).

According to the Pennsylvania State Police, there were a total of 2,115 vehicle pursuits in

2006. Of this total, 697 ended with collisions or crashes with 218 involving injuries. Of these

cases, 1,485 resulted in capture of the fleeing suspects. It is also important to note that 570

pursuits that year (included in the total) were terminated, likely due to the above general

conditions. The report detailed that some of the most common reasons for the suspects’ flight
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included stolen or suspected stolen vehicles (363), felony offenses (297), driving under the

influence (247), and general traffic violations (1,008) (Pennsylvania State Police, 2007). The fact

that over 70% of these pursuits resulted in capture is impressive, however it was not without a

price: 12 deaths occurred, with all twelve being suspects. The 2005 report is very similar,

however with 13 deaths (10 suspects and 3 bystanders). While a comparison of the number of

deaths is not spectacular, the fact that in 2006 there were no innocent fatalities is a huge step.

One could imagine that this step was taken through enhanced training and technology used by

these departments during pursuits.

While in law enforcement training, every recruit goes through what is called an EVOC

(Emergency Vehicle Operators Course) or similar acronym, which teaches both basic and

advanced precision driving, along with other skills needed when “running code” (driving fast to

a high priority emergency call with lights and sirens). Even though recruits learn about pursuit

theory and tactical driving, some agencies devote less than 14 hours to this training (US

Department of Justice, 1997), which is surprising due to the current state of police driving in the

media and litigation spotlight. Other agencies provide superior training to their recruits, and are

models for others in what needs to be instructed. Some of the skills taught to New York State

Police cadets include controlled braking, rapid reversing, tight maneuvering, crash avoidance

techniques, and driver multitasking skills (NYSP web site).

Many academies have recognized the need for higher quality vehicle training and have

beefed up their curriculum, such as the Washington State Patrol. The WSP has recently instituted

a bi-yearly refresher course mandatory for all troopers and open to any law enforcement agency,

which focuses on police driving skills, new techniques in vehicular force (such as the famed PIT

maneuver, short for Precision Immobilization Technique, and involving the precise collision of

the front side of a police vehicle with the rear corner panel of a fleeing vehicle which sends it
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into a controlled spin, thus ending the pursuit), and other new intervention technology

(Wikipedia). It includes a rigorous classroom and live training course scored in such a way that it

is possible for a trooper to be taken out of driving duty should they fail (Washington State Patrol,

2006). Training is the key to helping officers understand in-depth pursuit theory and practices

which allow them to enter into and end vehicle pursuits quickly, efficiently, and above all safely.

Besides standard pursuit training involving vehicular dynamics and maneuvering, there

are many other technologies which are taught in today’s pursuit classroom. Several companies

have begun offering quality products that go way beyond the traditional roll-out spike strips,

which can help intervene in pursuits to stop a vehicle safely or even prevent one before it begins.

Stop Tech, Ltd. is one such company, which has also revolutionized the way officers handle

pursuits. Their primary product, the Stop Stick, features an enclosed row of “quills” which enter

into the tire of a fleeing vehicle and slowly deflates it, usually causing the vehicle to slow to a

stop instead of losing control. According to the Stop Tech web site, Stop Sticks can be easily

deployed by a stationary roadside officer as the pursuit nears his position. Stop Tech also features

versions which can be placed underneath tires at a traffic stop or DUI enforcement area to help

prevent pursuits before they happen.

Simulators have become a great training tool as of late, allowing departments to keep

costs down and provide refresher training for its officers. The Philadelphia Police Department

has been using simulators to enhance officer driver training since 2001. In the last few years, the

PPD have shown a 24% decrease in officer-involved collisions, both in and out of pursuits

(Yates, 2007). Nitrogen, the same that all humans breathe, has been recommended to replace the

standard air in many police vehicles’ tires. According to Capt. Travis Yates of,”

Nitrogen molecules are larger and less permeable than ambient air, and it will migrate much

more slowly through a tire. Nitrogen will resist heat buildup much better than air, and will reduce
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oxidation which can damage tires from the inside.” Nitrogen would be much better in tires

during pursuits, increasing handling and tire durability.

Law enforcement officers are tasked with apprehending criminals in order to better serve

a safe society. Unfortunately, most criminals do not voluntarily submit themselves into custody.

The truth of the matter is that police pursuits are a vital part of a police officer’s job, and include

risk to all those present. Without pursuing offenders, the police send a message to all criminals

that “If you flee, you will get away.” This is not only a negative message to send, but also

detrimental to the safety of society in general.

Police officers go to work each day with the knowledge that they may be required to put

their safety on the line. Likewise, when offenders flee, they are also knowingly putting their

safety at risk. Innocent bystanders, unfortunately, do now enter into these situations with this

realization, and pursuits are dangerous to them. In order to minimize the risks and still be able to

do their job by protecting the public, agencies should evaluate not only their pursuit policies, but

also explore more advanced training and tools in which to outfit their officers with. Besides

instituting a “No pursuit” policy, there are many solutions to helping lower liability from pursuit

related incidents.
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2006 Pennsylvania Police Pursuit Report (2007). Pennsylvania State Police. Retrieved May 1,

______2007, from web site

Alpert, G. (1997). Police Pursuit: Policies and Training. NIJ Research in Brief, May 1997. US

______Department of Justice.

Associated Press (April, 2007). Dallas Police Chief Defend Chase Policy

Business Media. Retrieved April 13, 2007, from web site:


Associated Press (April, 2004). Bill imposes a statewide pursuit policy. The Fresno Bee.

Dao, J. (2004, July 20). D.C. Police Consider Reinstating Chase Policy after Rash of Car Thefts,

______Deadly Crashes. The New York Times. Retrieved October 21, 2005, from web site


EVOC Training (N.d.). New York State, Division of State Police web site. Retrieved March 12,

______2007 from web site

Fakkema, F. (2006). Washington State Patrol Biannual Driver Qualification

______Program. The Police Chief, 73.

Number of police pursuits, fatalities decrease (2007). PA PowerPort/State of Pennsylvania.

______Retrieved May 2, 2007, from web site


Petrocelli, Joseph (March, 2007). Are motor vehicle pursuits dangerous?

Business Media. Retrieved March 20, 2007, from web site
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StopTech, Ltd. (2007). Stop Stick Tire Deflation Device. Retrieved April 19, 2007, from

______StopTech web site

Thompson, Justin (2005). Police pursuits: Are no-pursuit policies the answer? Criminal Justice

______Institute, School of Law Enforcement Supervision.

To chase or not to chase: In Penn., individual officers decide. (2006).

______Review Publishing Company. Retrieved March 14, 2007, from web site


Van Blaricom, D. P. (2003). Control of Police Vehicular Pursuit. Law Enforcement Executive

______Forum. Retrieved October 21, 2005, from web site


Wikipedia (2007). PIT Maneuver. Retrieved May 16, 2007, from web site ______

Yates, T. (May, 2007). Nitrogen use in LE fleets: Is your safety riding on it?

______Retrieved April 14, 2007, from web site