Go one, admit it – you secretly love watching True TV, especially when the channel shows the ‘Wildest Police Chases XX (fill in version number). Channel surfing, you instantly stop on whatever cable news network is broadcasting a live pursuit. Does it matter whether the police officers are following the suspect at 100 mph on the highway or 25 mph on a city street? No, we still stay glued to our television sets, waiting for the final outcome.
Look at the example below, the audio was posted on a dispatch website.
UNIT 125 XXM4638 GRAY GMC YUKON SB COLLEGE/SHIPYARD 4 OCCUPANTS AT S COLLEGE & SHIPYARD
WB MOCKINGBIRD JUST THREW OUT A BAG OF MARIJUANA
NEED SOMEBODY, ANOTHER BAG, MOCKINGBIRD AND WINTERGREEN
NEED TO PICK IT UP
(Dispatch repeating) 248
248 (responding to cover) FROM MARKET AND 15TH
1 POUND BAGS OF MARIJUANA HE’S THROWING OUT, WALLIS HILLS WESTBOUND
NORTHBOUND COLLEGE ROAD DROPPED ANOTHER BAG
NORTHBOUND COLLEGE ROAD
PASSING IMACRAY PARK (??)
RIGHT ON A PARKWAY
EAST SIDE ON A SWITCHOVER
ANOTHER BAG ON A THE PARKWAY
ANOTHER BAG IN A DITCH
ON COLLEGE ROAD
CORRECTION OLEANDER EASTBOUND
THROWN AT LEAST 5 POUNDS OF MARIJUANA OUT THE VEHICLE ALREADY
318 NEED EMS FOR OFFICER MATTHEWS 10-50 AT SHIPYARD A/F BAPTIST CHURCH HE’S INTO TREE (from cover unit)
I CAN’T GET HIM OUT ACROSS FROM BAPTIST CHURCH (from on scene cover)
359 OUT /W SUBJ (from cover unit)
NEED 10-18 (from cover unit)
HEAD TRAUMA FOR 359 (fro cover unit)
318 HAVE TRAUMA (from cover unit telling dispatch what is wrong with original officer)
318 NEED EMS (from cover unit)
SHIPYARD AT 41RST ST LOCK IT UP (from another officer)
EMS AT HOLLYTREE (from cover officer)
307 BLOCKING AT SHIPYARD EB (from cover officer)
307 ALL TRAFFIC EB WB BLOCKED OFF
3644 COLLECT ALL STUFF THROWN OUT (from supervising officer)
The above scenario is a real event. The incident happened quickly; I haven’t transcribed the event in its entirety, but you can get the gist of it. The officer starts out trying to stop the vehicle for an unknown reason. The vehicle fails to yield and the driver takes off at a high rate of speed. The officer advises the dispatcher of the direction and that the driver allegedly dumped a bag of illegal substances from the moving vehicle. The dispatcher repeats (a technique known as parroting) the direction changes. Other units beside 248 (on the recording) answer to assist in the pursuit. You can see near the bottom of the transcription, where 318 tells the dispatcher of an accident involving the original officer.
Suddenly, the emphasis goes from a pursuit on a drug-related event to a vehicle accident involving an officer.
Speeders, runners, hot chases, or evaders, failure to yields, pursuits: different names for a person in a vehicle fleeing from a law enforcement officer. There was a time when law enforcement personnel would ‘put the pedal to the metal’ for almost any type of moving violation, including running red lights. Although you probably couldn’t get an anyone to admit it, there were law enforcement officers who would initiate chases for stupid reasons (i.e. civilian driver gave them the ‘bird’). The court of public opinion eventually put enough pressure on City Managers, Mayors, and Police Chiefs to change decades of habits.
Departments across the country have changed policies, restricting vehicle chases to certain felonious crimes or in-progress incidents defined by the individual departments. According to a 1996 article by Clyde Eisenberg and Cynthia Fitzpatrick entitled Police Practice: An Alternative to Police Pursuits, “Forty percent of all law enforcement pursuits end in a collision, and approximately 290 pursuit-related deaths occur each year.” Liability and public safety have been the two biggest causes cited for the restriction of pursuits, hence the cry for limitations on police vehicular chases.
With the restriction of pursuits, the opportunity for dispatch personnel to gain experience in handling these types of incidents has become rare. Still, dispatchers do need to know how to work a pursuit. How does one train a new dispatcher to properly handle a chase? The time to learn this important skill is not when the dispatcher handles one for the first time. That would be equivalent to a trainer placing a trainee on a fire channel when a working structure fire is received and letting he or she ‘muddle through it’ without any instruction other than previously reading through the department policy.
That’s asking for problems.
Recordings are available through dispatcher sites and Public safety retailers. Don’t forget other trainers within your own agency. Next, review your departments’ policies and procedures, utilizing both the Communications Center and the patrol Standard Operating Policies (SOP). With the availability of tapes from multiple agencies, and yours, play recording of pursuits. Have your trainee(s) act as the radio dispatcher, responding as he or she would as they were working the radio. If your Computer-Aided-Dispatch (CAD) system has a training environment, utilize that along with the taped recordings. When the recording is done, compare what the dispatch trainee did as to what a veteran dispatcher would have done. What was wrong and what was right? This process can be used for foot pursuits and in-progress calls, as well.
Review the realities of a pursuit. What will happen? From experience, I can tell you that multiple units will come up on the channel, all wanting to respond to help. The urge to respond is strong. Every field unit will wish to help. The adrenaline will pump them up, voices rise. It is up to the dispatcher to remain calm! A steady voice is absolutely essential. If you lose it, so will everyone else. Know your department’s pursuit policy before a chase happens. Can you, the dispatcher, call a channel priority? What type of calls can an officer chase? IS there a limit on how many law enforcement units can get involved? What about pursuits that cross jurisdictional boundaries? Who makes the decision to continue or cancel a chase?
As the Boy Scouts say, be prepared.
When I was training, many moons ago, as an EMT, a partner was showing me the ropes. The company we worked for didn’t pay us after 5:oo p.m unless we were actually on a call. To boost our paychecks, we kept an ear out for fire responses on medicals. We’d also listen to the local law enforcement channel. He shook his head when the bad guys got away, wondering how anyone could “Outrun Motorola.” By that, he meant using radios to set up units in strategic locations to catch the fleeing suspect. The company did have a firm policy of telling us whenever multiple units were responding code 3 (lights & sirens) to calls within the general vicinity. We were advised to respond C3 with caution and told about the other call. Not bad advice, considering we weren’t thinking the other field personnel. Huh, back then we didn’t do many preventative procedures that most public safety personnel take for granted now.
Pursuits generally happen without any warning. A law enforcement officer, whether he or she is a street cop, a federal officer, a game warden, or a highway patrolman might begin the incident as above by calling in a traffic stop, or jump on the channel with a pursuit out of the blue. It is not unheard of for an officer to ‘sit on a vehicle’ until a suspect gets inside and wait until said person drives off before attempting to make an arrest. Thankfully, with tightened department policies, this mindset is being changed with the emphasis on recovering vehicles and preventing accidents from the pursuits.
As always, stay safe out there.
Here is a link to the actual radio call. The tape is descriced as "In Feb. 2009 Wilmington (NC) police officer Richard Matthews crashed his car while responding to join the pursuit of a drug suspect’s car. He was ejected and died of head injuries. Police released the dispatch channel logging tape after a media request. The tape includes the original stop, the call from an officer for an ambulance and the aftermath. (quiet radio segments removed)."