Issues and Trends in Policing: Police Vehicle Pursuits

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Issues and Trends in Policing: Police Vehicle Pursuits


There has been a lot of debate and news coverage about police pursuits over the last decade. These debates have ranged from whether police should pursue any vehicle for any reason to if pursuits are not conducted then the criminal element will use the flight in a car as a sure way to escape apprehension. I plan to research and write about the various court decisions that pertain to pursuits. I will review pursuits that have ended badly and how that has affected the law enforcement agencies as a whole. During this review a look at the level of force that is used during pursuits and at the conclusion of pursuits and whether or not it is justified.

I have been a police officer for almost twenty years. I am of the opinion that a total ban on pursuits would be detrimental to the community in the overall analysis. I do believe more training and better tactics should be used during the police pursuit. An agency should review all pursuits no matter if the end well or badly. Police officers have to know that their actions will be reviewed by management in every instance and not just when something bad happens. This will cause them to conduct a pursuit with due care in mind.

My three main directions of the paper will be to discuss and conclude what court decisions have said and have not said about police pursuits. How do they apply to the police organizations and the officer personally? Next I will review what the news media opinion is on police pursuits and whether the represent the opinion of the general public or not. Last, I will focus on what police officers believe about pursuits and what are their main concerns during these activities. Finally, I will express my opinion after all this research and decide if police pursuits should be allowed and if so how they should be conducted. COURT DECISIONS

There have been numerous cases involving police vehicle pursuits. The court has made decisions concerning qualified immunity of police officers, Fourth Amendment protections, and arbitrary conduct by the police. These decisions have been controlling in the effects they have had on policy and tactics. I believe some will fine some of the decisions surprising while others will make sense.

In one case, the plaintiff's decedent was riding as a passenger on a motorcycle that refused to pull over when a deputy sheriff motioned its driver to do so. A second deputy sheriff engaged in a high speed pursuit and crashed into the motorcycle after it tipped over, killing the passenger. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a police officer does not violate substantive due process under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by causing death through deliberate or reckless indifference to life in a high-speed automobile chase aimed at apprehending a suspected offender. The U.S. Supreme Court found that the proper blame for the incident could be placed on the driver's lawless and "outrageous" conduct in attempting to elude pursuit. It also rejected the argument that the claim was governed by the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The Court noted that the officer did not intentionally seek to terminate the plaintiff's freedom of motion. [Sacramento v. Lewis, #96-1337, 523 U.S. 833 (1998)]

The decedent had been driving a stolen car at high speeds to attempt to escape from pursuing police vehicles, and he was killed when his car crashed into a police roadblock. The police placed an 18-wheel truck completely across the highway in the path of the pursued vehicle, behind a curve, with a police car's headlights aimed in such a fashion as to blind the pursued driver as he approached. The lower courts had rejected the argument that the roadblock was unreasonable. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that anytime the government takes action against a person to terminate their movement it is a seizure. The actions by the police in this case...
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