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Police Pursuit Polices in Other Jurisdictions

OLA# 006-04

MEMORANDUM

TO: Office of Supervisor Maxwell

FROM: Gabe Cabrera, Office of the Legislative Analyst (OLA)

DATE: April 12, 2004

SUBJECT: Police Pursuit Policies in Other Jurisdictions

Executive Summary

The OLA was asked to identify best practices governing police pursuits and to offer recommendations for improving the police pursuit policies of the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD). To this end, we examined policies in three California cities (Los Angeles, San Jose and Oakland) as well as those in five cities outside of the State (Detroit, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Phoenix and Colorado Springs).

Although all of the police departments surveyed including the SFPD recognize the inherent dangers of pursuits and have made efforts to control them (i.e., all of them have recently changed their pursuit policies to make them more restrictive), our research indicates a lack of initial and continuing officer training regarding when and why to pursue (i.e., training is currently focused on the mechanics of defensive and/or pursuit driving rather than on issues that should be considered when deciding to initiate or continue a pursuit).

Issues to consider include, but are not limited to: 1) the severity of the originating crime, 2) safety of the officers, suspects and the public, 3) speeds involved in the pursuit, 4) volume of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, 5) weather conditions, 6) time of day, 7) road conditions, 8) familiarity with the area and 10) whether the suspect is known and can be apprehended at a later time.

The OLA suggests that the SFPD augment its entry-level and ongoing training programs regarding police pursuits. More specifically, the Department could take the following actions:

Increase the amount of officer training on pursuit policies provided at the San Francisco Police Academy.

Require officers to complete the currently optional Advanced Officer Training course of 18 hours every two years.

In addition, the Board could pass a resolution urging the SFPD to adopt one or more of the best practices in other jurisdictions (see Best Practices section of this report). Of course, these are policy matters for the Board of Supervisors.

Background

The basic dilemma associated with police pursuits of fleeing suspects is deciding whether the benefits of potential apprehension outweigh the risks of endangering police officers, the public and suspects in the chase. On the one hand, too many restrictions placed on police pursuits could place the public at risk from dangerous individuals escaping apprehension. On the other hand, insufficient controls on police pursuits could result in needless accidents and injuries.

The SFPD's pursuit policies were implemented in the 1970's and subsequently revised in 1997 to make them more restrictive.

Major highlights:

According to the SFPD's General Order 5.05, a vehicle pursuit is an attempt by an officer, while driving an emergency vehicle, to stop a moving motor vehicle when the officer has reasonable cause to stop the vehicle and the driver fails to do so as required by State law.

When it becomes apparent that the benefits of immediate apprehension are clearly outweighed by an unreasonable danger to the officer or others, the pursuit shall not be initiated or, if already in progress, shall be terminated.

An unreasonable danger exists when the reason for apprehending the suspect is clearly outweighed by the danger to persons or property (e.g., when the only reason for the pursuit is traffic violations or a misdemeanor, or a non-violent felony).

According to Section 8.343 of the City's Charter, the SFPD Police Commission may reprimand, fine (not to exceed one month's salary), suspend (not to exceed three months) or dismiss an officer who is found guilty of any offense or violation of the Department's rules and regulations (i.e. policies) after a trial and hearing by the Police Commission.

Local media has criticized the SFPD for recent incidents involving suspects who fail to yield.1 In response, the Department is currently reviewing its pursuit policies to determine if they need to be revised. In addition, on March 29, 2004, the City's Acting Police Chief issued a bulletin to all police personnel reminding them of the inherent dangers of pursuits and the need to follow existing policies.

Policy

All of the agencies surveyed had written policies governing police pursuits but many had been implemented in the 1970's. Of those who had updated them, most had made them more restrictive to control risk.

We also discovered that as the severity of the crime increases, police departments were more willing to risk the dangers of a pursuit to apprehend suspects. For instance, all of the agencies surveyed including the SFPD discourage or prohibit officers from initiating pursuits that involve infractions or misdemeanors. Nearly all of these agencies allow officers to initiate pursuits when the suspect is a violent felon. Table 1 below summarizes pursuit policies of the agencies surveyed relative to the severity of the crime.

Table 1

Police Department

Question:

Are officers authorized to pursue a suspect who commits the following offense?

 

Infraction

Misdemeanor

Non-violent felony

Violent felony

San Francisco

No

No

No

Yes

Los Angeles

No

Yes except misdemeanor evading or reckless driving

Yes

Yes

San Jose

No

No

Yes except when suspect begins driving without due care

Yes except when the dangers posed by the pursuit outweigh the need to apprehend the suspect

Oakland

No except upon supervisory approval

No except upon supervisory approval

Yes

Yes

Detroit

No

No

Yes

Yes

Philadelphia

No except when actions of a driver pose a continuing danger

No

No except when suspect has stolen a vehicle or possesses a deadly weapon

Yes

New Orleans

No except upon supervisory approval

No except upon supervisory approval

No except upon supervisory approval

No except upon supervisory approval

Phoenix

No

No

No

Yes

Colorado Springs2

Yes under low risk conditions

Yes under low risk conditions

Yes under low risk conditions

Yes under low and medium risk conditions

Training

In an attempt to gauge officer training regarding pursuits, we asked the SFPD and participating agencies the following questions:

1) How much entry-level training regarding when and why to pursue is provided at your police academy; and

2) How much additional ongoing training regarding when and why to pursue is provided after pursuit policies are updated?

We discovered that the time devoted to driver training at police academies is typically 40 hours. Once in service, officers receive, on average, 10 hours per year of additional driver training. Notably, this training is focused on the mechanics of defensive and/or pursuit driving rather than on issues that should be considered when deciding to initiate, continue or terminate pursuits. That is, agencies may spend time teaching officers how to pursue but training devoted to when and why to pursue appears to be minimal or nonexistent.

Table 2

Police Department

Entry-Level

Training

Additional

Ongoing Training

San Francisco

40 hours of training on vehicle operations including 8 hours of classroom training3

24 hours of Continuing Professional Training (required) every two years4; 2 of these 24 hours specifically on when and why to pursue; 18 hours of Advanced Officer Training (optional) every two years5; and roll call training on new laws and/or policy changes6

Los Angeles

No response

No response

San Jose

34 hours of training including 10 hours of classroom training and 3 hours specifically on when and why to pursue

24 hours of Continuing Professional Training every two years; 4 of these 24 hours specifically on when and why to pursue

Oakland

8 hours of training specifically on when and why to pursue

24 hours of Continuing Professional Training every two years; 1 of these 24 hours specifically on when and why to pursue

Detroit

An unspecified number of hours on precision driving

8 hours of training when the Department's policy manual was updated in 2003; however, normally, officers receive roll call training on new laws and/or policy changes

Philadelphia

40 hours of training including an unspecified number of hours on vehicle pursuits

8 hours of training on vehicle operations every year; if an officer has been involved in an accident while on duty, he/she must receive 2 additional hours of training focused on defensive driving

New Orleans

40 hours of training on defensive and pursuit driving

8 hours of training on defensive and pursuit driving every year and roll call training on new laws and/or policy changes

Phoenix

24 hours of training on pursuit driving

8 hours of In-Service Training (required) every few years; 2 hours of classroom training (required) every two years; 5 hours of continuing training (optional) every year

Colorado Springs

40 hours of training including 8 hours specifically on pursuit driving

Roll call training on new laws and/or policy changes

Best Practices

Beyond considerations related to the severity of the crime and officer training, the following is a list of best practices in other jurisdictions that have, according to police officials interviewed for this report, minimized the dangers of police pursuits.

  • The SFPD could prohibit officers from initiating or continuing a pursuit without express supervisory approval, as is the case in New Orleans. Currently, the SFPD's command level officers (supervising officers) may, at any time, direct the termination of a pursuit for any reason. This policy is slightly different from New Orleans's policy in so far as it allows officers to initiate and continue pursuits without express supervisory approval. In New Orleans, officers may not do so.

  • The SFPD could prohibit an officer from driving any faster than 20 M.P.H. over the posted speed limit during pursuits except when driving on the freeway or upon supervisory approval, as is the case in Oakland.

  • If the Mayor and the Board were to restore funding for the SFPD's helicopter unit, the Department could then require officers to immediately request the helicopter unit via a radio dispatcher when they initiate a pursuit. The Department's helicopter unit was de-funded in FY 01-02 due to citywide funding shortages and its helicopters were auctioned off to private parties in FY 02-03. The goal of this policy is to allow the helicopter unit to gain visual contact with the suspect until he/she slows or comes to a stop, at which time the helicopter unit can direct officers to the suspect's location, as is the case in Colorado Springs.

Other ideas to consider include increased use of spike strips and installation of video cameras in police vehicles. Although these are not best practices in other jurisdictions, spike strips could minimize the immediate dangers of high speed pursuits while video cameras could encourage officers to follow existing policies, according to SFPD personnel.

Other Jurisdictions

City of Los Angeles

In June 2003, Los Angeles (LA)'s Police Commission directed the LA Police Department to activate a 12-month pilot program that if permanently adopted, will revise the Department's policies and procedures as they relate to the initiation, tracking and supervision of pursuits.

Major highlights:

  • If a ground unit attempts to stop a vehicle for an infraction, misdemeanor evading or reckless driving in response to enforcement action taken by Department personnel, and the driver fails to yield, a pursuit shall not be initiated.

  • Instead, officers shall generate an incident report listing the City of Los Angeles as the victim and the involved officer as a witness. Additionally, officers shall indicate what served as the basis of their decision not to pursue (i.e., infraction, misdemeanor evading, etc.)

  • If reasonable suspicion or probable cause exists that a misdemeanor (except misdemeanor evading) or felony has occurred, is occurring or is about to occur, officers may pursue.

  • Whenever possible, air units (i.e., helicopters) shall assume responsibility for tracking a suspect vehicle. During this tracking, ground units shall continue their response, but should reduce their speed and, if reasonable, maintain a position out of the line-of-sight of the suspect's vehicle to maximize public safety.

City of San Jose

San Jose's Police Department had written policies governing pursuits but it had been implemented in the 1970's. It updated those polices in September 2001 to make them more restrictive in the interests of public safety.

Major highlights:

  • When an officer attempts to stop a vehicle, and the driver fails to yield, there is a brief interval where the officer follows the violator with lights and siren activated (Code 3).

  • When the violator does not stop, or attempts to avoid capture, a pursuit is initiated. If the driving behavior is reasonably perceived as being non-hazardous, the officer can continue to pursue the vehicle, unless the driving behavior or circumstances change that would make it unsafe to continue.

  • Officers who are involved in a pursuit with a non-violent felon, misdemeanant, person suspected of a property crime or vehicle code violator should terminate the pursuit when it becomes apparent the violator exhibits the intent to evade, willfully flees or otherwise attempts to elude the pursuing officers by driving without due care for the safety of others.

  • However, officers who are involved in a pursuit with a violent felon who poses a significant, on-going threat to public safety, may continue the pursuit unless specific facts and circumstances change to the point that the danger or serious injury posed by the pursuit to other motorists and pedestrians outweighs the need to apprehend the violator.

City of Oakland

In April 2000, the Oakland Police Department revised its vehicle pursuit policies to make them more restrictive in the interests of public safety. Interestingly, the Department maintains a maximum speed limit for officers during pursuits as described below.

Major highlights:

  • A vehicle pursuit is an event involving one or more law enforcement officers attempting to apprehend a subject operating a motor vehicle while the subject is trying to avoid arrest by using high speed driving or other evasive tactics.

  • A failure to yield does not constitute a pursuit unless the driver's actions demonstrate the above factor.

  • In addition, except upon the approval of a commander or supervisor in the field, an officer shall not initiate a vehicle pursuit when the only know underlying criminal violation is a non-firearm related misdemeanor or infraction of the State Vehicle Code.

  • During pursuits, officers shall not drive any faster than 20 M.P.H. over the posted speed limit except when driving on the freeway, or upon supervisory or command approval.

City of Detroit

Detroit Police Department's vehicle pursuit policy was implemented in the late 1960's and revised in 2003. Department officials stated that this new policy is more restrictive and has substantially reduced the number of pursuits.

Major highlights:

  • Officers attempting to stop a vehicle shall activate their roof lights and direct the driver by visual or audible signal to bring the car to a stop. If the attempt to stop the vehicle fails, officers shall activate the headlights and siren of their vehicle prior to initiating a pursuit. Officers shall activate their roof light and/or siren when attempting to catch up to a suspect vehicle.

  • A pursuit shall only be initiated for the following:
    1. If an officer has probable cause to believe a felony has been, is being or is about to be committed.
    2. If an officer observes offenses wherein the conduct of the offense poses such an imminent danger to the public at large that the anticipated hazards of pursuit are outweighed by the danger posed by allowing the conduct to continue.

  • Once the helicopter unit establishes visual contact with the pursued vehicle, the helicopter unite will assume the role of primary unit and shall begin assisting and coordinating the ground activities. The ground units, upon being advised by the zone dispatcher the helicopter unit has assumed t he role of primary unit, shall reduce their speed and proceed with caution as directed by the helicopter unit to the culmination point of the pursuit.

City of Philadelphia

The vehicle pursuit policies of the Philadelphia Police Department have been revised several times since they were implemented in the 1970's. The latest revision was in February 1994 to make them more restrictive.

Major highlights:

  • A pursuit is the operation or use of a police motor vehicle where the officer has probable cause to pursue a suspected violent felonious criminal, a person fleeing in possession of a deadly weapon which they have used or indicate they are about to use, or when an officer has probable cause to believe a vehicle is stolen and the driver is willfully or knowingly using illegal or evasive driving tactics in an effort to avoid arrest.

  • A pursuit shall only be initiated for the following:

    1) The initiating police officer is in close proximity to a suspect, driving a motor vehicle, with the emergency equipment activated (light bars and siren) and the suspect fails to yield;

    2) The police officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed, has attempted to commit or is attempting to commit a violent felony or in accordance with one of the following exemptions:

    a) A pursuit may be undertaken for a stolen vehicle and for a person fleeing police who is in possession of a deadly weapon that they have used or indicates that they are about to use.

    b) In reference to motor vehicle violations, if the actions of a driver of a motor vehicle are so callous as to present a continuing danger to the public, the officer may pursue the vehicle.

  • Police officers shall not become involved in pursuits for motor vehicle violations only.

City of New Orleans

New Orleans Police Department's pursuit policies are fairly new. They were implemented in April 1997 but have been subsequently revised five times in the interests of public safety. No pursuits may be initiated without express supervisory approval as described below.

Major highlights:

  • A vehicle pursuit is the active attempt to apprehend the occupants of a vehicle when the driver refuses to stop. The officer shall activate his/her unit's lights and siren in attempt to stop the offender. Once the offender indicates through his/her actions that he/she does not intend to comply with the officer's direction, a pursuit may be initiated.

  • However, no pursuit shall be initiated or continued without the express approval of a Platoon Supervisor of the district of the occurrence.

  • When an officer had made the determination that he/she wishes to request to initiate a pursuit, he/she must immediately broadcast his/her intention to his/her Platoon Supervisor. The Platoon Officer must immediately respond to that broadcast, make himself/herself available and approve/disapprove the pursuit.

  • Any officer may initiate a pursuit with express supervisory approval when one or more of the following criteria are met:

    1) The suspect exhibits the intention to avoid apprehension through evasive or unlawful tactics;

    2) The suspect operating the vehicle refuses to stop at the direction of the officer; or

    3) The violation is such that a failure to pursue would further enhance the danger presented to the public.

City of Phoenix

The vehicle pursuit polices of the Phoenix Police Department were most likely implemented in the 1970's and revised at least once in December 2002.

Major highlights:

  • A pursuit is any attempt by an officer, operating an authorized emergency vehicle, to apprehend occupants of a moving vehicle when the driver is aware of that attempt and is resisting apprehension including: maintaining or increasing speed, disobeying traffic laws, ignoring the officer and attempting to elude the officer.

  • When an officer initiates a pursuit he/she must immediately activate the vehicle's emergency lights and siren and request an air unit via the radio dispatcher. When the air unit advises that the suspect vehicle is in view, all ground units will turn off their emergency lights/sirens and make every effort to move to a position where they can no longer be seen by the suspect.

  • Officers should consider terminating a pursuit when the pursuit occurs during rush hour and/or is in the areas of a school.

  • Pursuits should be immediately terminated when the suspect is known to the officer, the offense is a traffic infraction, misdemeanor or non-violent felony.

City of Colorado Springs

In March 2003, the Colorado Springs Police Department revised their pursuit policies to make them more restrictive in the interests of public safety. The Department has developed a pursuit guideline matrix to help officers/supervisors to determine whether or not to pursue.

Major highlights:

  • The Department expects officers who initiate a pursuit to continually evaluate the pursuit itself, and the circumstances surrounding it, based on a continuum of risk factors versus the seriousness of the offense, according to the following pursuit guideline matrix.

    Seriousness of Offense

    Low Risk

    Medium Risk

    High Risk

    Violent felony

    Authorized

    Authorized

    Caution

    Felony-misdemeanor against persons

    Authorized

    Prohibited

    Prohibited

    All property crimes to include motor vehicle thefts

    Authorized

    Prohibited

    Prohibited

    Traffic violations to include DUI's

    Authorized

    Prohibited

    Prohibited

  • A field supervisor will determine, based on the pursuit matrix guideline, whether to allow the pursuit to proceed.

  • Upon arriving in the area, the helicopter unit will obtain visual contact of the suspect vehicle and advise ground units that they have assumed responsibility of the pursuit. Once this occurs, all ground units will turn off emergency lights and sirens and will either stop on the side of the road or change direction, causing the suspect driver to belie that the pursuit has been terminated. The intent is to allow the helicopter unit to maintain visual contact with the suspect vehicle until the suspect vehicle slows or comes to a stop, at which time the helicopter unit can direct ground units to the suspect's location.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In closing, although all of the police departments surveyed including the SFPD recognize the inherent dangers of pursuits and have made efforts to control them (i.e., all of them have recently changed their pursuit policies to make them more restrictive), our research indicates a lack of initial and continuing officer training regarding when and why to pursue (i.e., training is currently focused on the mechanics of defensive and/or pursuit driving rather than on issues that should be considered when deciding to initiate, continue or terminate pursuits).

Therefore, the OLA suggests that the SFPD augment its entry-level and ongoing training programs regarding police pursuits. More specifically, the Department could take the following actions:

Increase the amount of officer training on pursuit polices provided at the San Francisco Police Academy.

Require officers to complete the currently optional Advanced Officer Training course of 18 hours every two years. Potentially, this course could be made available to officers on a staggered basis relative to the State's biennial training requirements.

Lastly, the Board could pass a resolution urging the SFPD to adopt one or more of the best practices in other jurisdictions. Of course, these are policy matters for the Board of Supervisors.

Bibliography

Interviews

Deputy Chief Greg Suhr, San Francisco Police Department, March and April 2004.

Sergeant Joe Zamagni, San Francisco Police Academy, March and April 2004.

Sergeant Dan Linehan, San Francisco Police Department, April 2004.

Sergeant Donald Brister, San Jose Police Department, Office of Research and Development, March 2004.

Lynn Freedmen, Oakland Police Department, Crime Analysis Unit, March 2004.

Inspector Jamie Fields, Detroit Police Department, Planning and Accreditation Section, March 2004.

Lieutenant Michael Dwyer, Philadelphia Police Department, Research and Planning Unit, March 2004.

Sergeant Steven Day, New Orleans Police Department, Accreditation Section, March 2004.

Sergeant Debra Heuett, Phoenix Police Department, Planning and Research Bureau, March 2004.

Felicia Blake, Colorado Springs Police Department, Research and Development Unit, March 2004.

1 "Family decries police for deadly chase", San Francisco Chronicle, March 6, 2004, Page A-18; "Police kill man in stolen SUV, Cops shoot driver as he backs vehicle toward them", San Francisco Chronicle, March 31, 2004, Page B-4; "Cop who killed suspect not told chase called off, Failure in communications isolated motorcycle officer who shot convicted auto thief", San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 2004, Page B-4.

2 See the Colorado Springs Police Department's pursuit guidance matrix in the Other Jurisdictions section of this report.

3 The State's Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) requires that new recruits receive at least 24 hours of training regarding vehicle operations. (http://www.post.ca.gov/training/bt_bureau/curriculum.asp)

4 The POST program is voluntary and participating agencies agree to require their officers to complete the Continuing Professional Training (CPT) requirements of 24 or more hours of training every two years. (POST Regulation 1005, B-8)

5 The SFPD gives its officers the option of completing an Advanced Officer Training course of 18 hours every two years, which includes a review of when and why to pursue.

6 Roll call training is a supplementary training technique. It normally involves topics of immediate interest to police personnel, which can be presented in short period of time. One example of roll call training: Staff from the SFPD's Investigations Bureau presenting information on recent crimes or persons involved in crimes.

Last updated: 9/9/2009 2:07:11 PM