n the world of reality police television, high-speed pursuits are nearly always entertaining. But in everyday police work, high-speed pursuits are anything but entertaining. They can lead to traffic crashes, property damage, injuries, and even deaths. Members of an unsuspecting public can become collateral damage as the action spins out of control. Officer safety is jeopardized as many uncontrolled factors play into the situation. According to an article in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, in the United States as many as 40 percent of all motor vehicle police pursuits end in collisions, and pursuit-related collisions claim the lives of 300 police officers, offenders, or innocent bystanders a year.1
Law enforcement executives are faced with the need to develop alternative methods of apprehension that reduce the liability issues for agencies. The Hillsboro, Oregon, Police Department has had a restrictive pursuit policy for many years.
Since April 1992, the focus of police vehicle pursuits has been to assure the greater public safety. The department's pursuit policy has been revised several times, with the most recent revision of the policy in 2003.
In May 2003 the Hillsboro Police Department's pursuit policy was updated to authorize police pursuits only in cases where the "actions of the suspect(s) are a direct threat to life" or those where "the officer reasonably believes that delayed apprehension of the suspect(s) represents a clear and present danger to the public and/or the officer." The policy defined those statements further and gave specific guidelines for the officers and supervisors to use as they followed the policy. This policy places responsibility on the pursuing officer to terminate a pursuit rather than wait for a supervisor to order the termination. This shift of responsibility results in quicker and more efficient decision making when a pursuit situation becomes dangerous, saving valuable time and consequently helping to prevent vehicle collisions and avoiding injuries and even saving lives. Abandoning the pursuit does not mean the officer stops apprehension efforts; rather, the officer initiates other resources to bring about the apprehension.
When Hillsboro's policy went into effect, there were questions raised by the local law enforcement community about its effectiveness. Could the Hillsboro Police Department really convince officers to terminate their own pursuits without supervisor intervention? Once the public was aware of the restrictive policy, would this policy cause more people to flee from officers?
To view "Full text of the Hillsboro Slow Pursuit Policy" click here
Implementing the Policy
To implement the policy three important are steps are necessary: (1) develop an up-to-date policy, (2) provide realistic training in the application of the policy, and (3) report and review the outcomes of pursuits, including those terminated.
Pursuit Policy: Most departments have a pursuit policy, but it is important to kept the policy up-to-date. That is what Hillsboro Police Department accomplished. Starting in 1992 and continuing through the next decade, the Hillsboro policy evolved into today's slow pursuit policy.
Departments put a considerable effort into developing a policy, but the real value is to reevaluate the policy regularly. A pursuit policy must evolve with changes in the law, in technology, and in law enforcement practices. Every department should have a plan to periodically review its pursuit policy to ensure that it remains accurate and up-to-date. Officers and supervisors should be encouraged to bring problems with agency policies and better techniques to the attention of decision makers.
Officers must receive pursuit-related instruction every year that focuses on the policy as well as the factors that officers should consider when deciding to initiate and to break off pursuits. In Hillsboro, the patrol division is divided into six teams working four 10-hour shifts. All members of patrol share a common work day of Wednesday, which is the designated in-service training day. The department's emphasis is on realistic, scenario-based training for sworn personnel. This type of training places the pursuit policy in relative terms for the street officers.
Part of the training is to develop awareness in the officers to record detailed information about the driver and vehicle to enable later apprehension. In addition, Hillsboro uses a technique of situating or flooding the area of the pursuit with other officers to locate the suspect. Realistic training in this situation technique to locate the suspect is important.
Pursuit Review: Department should track and review all pursuits. Officers are required to document the pursuits, including those terminated, and supervisors are required to review the pursuit details.
Does It Work?
The first evidence is actually the paucity of events: pursuit reviews dropped off dramatically at Hillsboro. Any pursuit that takes place, whether it is terminated or not, requires a pursuit review to be completed by the duty sergeant. In 2005 the department had only two pursuits. The fear that violators would flee from the officers because of this policy did not materialize. It has become clear that Hillsboro has not experienced an increase in the number of people fleeing from police in vehicles.
Does the policy work? Yes, as the facts surrounding the two cases reviewed in 2005 help demonstrate. The first case took place in the afternoon of June 5, 2005. A Hillsboro officer attempted to stop a motorist for an equipment violation. The driver did not stop and the officer immediately terminated the pursuit by turning off his lights and siren. The officer then continued following the driver at a safe speed. The driver turned into a parking lot and exited the vehicle, apparently under the impression that he was not being followed. Other officers, who flooded the area once he was on foot, apprehended the driver.
The second incident took place on June 6, 2005. An off-duty police officer called 911 to report that he was following a stolen vehicle. A Hillsboro K-9 officer was in the area and saw the stolen vehicle driving toward him on a major roadway. As the officer began to turn around to follow the stolen car, the driver sped off, going into the oncoming lanes. The officer immediately realized the danger to the public and turned his lights and siren off. The officer then asked other units to saturate the area as he began checking nearby side streets. He located the suspect vehicle abandoned on a side street just a few blocks away from the initial contact. Officers responding to the area set up a quick perimeter around the car. A K-9 track was initiated and the suspect was found hiding in tall grass nearby.
The decision to terminate potentially dangerous pursuits in both cases was made by the original officer as soon as the officer was aware that the suspect was going to flee. In both cases, the suspect quickly abandoned his dangerous driving and dumped the vehicle. In both cases, Hillsboro officers were able to take the suspect into custody swiftly.
The bottom line is that Hillsboro's pursuit policy has proven itself effective. Giving officers the discretion to make the on- scene decision to terminate pursuits has not resulted in an increase in the number of pursuits. An additional phenomenon may be at work here: the earlier that a pursuit is terminated, the more likely it is that the fleeing driver will return to safe speeds or abandon the vehicle in the immediate vicinity.
Hillsboro Police Department's policy of discontinuing pursuits and flooding the immediate area with police has been very successful. Veteran officers have observed that they are apprehending more offenders using this policy than they did in the days of hot pursuits. And they're doing it with significantly less risk to officers and the community. ■