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High-speed car chases can be captivating, in part because they often don’t end well.Quora asked police officers last year exactly how they’re trained to handle these sticky situations. Retired cop Tim Dees, who’s now a criminal justice consultant, provided some illuminating answers.
Here are the most interesting bits of his Quora answer, published with Dees’ permission:
For starters, Dees reveals how most high-speed chases actually start:
While the aftermath of a vehicle pursuit often reveals that the fleeing driver had outstanding arrest warrants, a suspended driver’s licence, was driving a stolen vehicle, or had drugs or other contraband in the car and feared being arrested, most vehicle pursuits are initiated when a driver refuses to stop for a relatively trivial traffic violation, such as a damaged taillight or failing to stop at a stop sign.
Now here are the factors Dees says officers are trained to consider when deciding whether they want to actually chase somebody down:
The gravity of the offence(s) known to the officer. Is this just a traffic violation, or does the officer know the vehicle is stolen, the driver is a wanted person, the car is carrying narcotics, etc.?
The nature of the area where the pursuit will transit. A pursuit on an interstate highway is less hazardous than one on a residential street.
The time of day. This matters because of lighting conditions and traffic patterns and congestion.
The type and condition of the vehicle the officer is driving. Most police package sedans are equipped for pursuit driving. Utility vehicles and other special-purpose vehicles are not well-suited for pursuits. Also, some police package sedans are not well-maintained and can fail catastrophically under the stresses of a pursuit.
The officer’s own skill at pursuit driving.
Whether there are air support resources that can identify the vehicle and maintain a track on it while surface vehicles hang back and wait for a signal to close in.
Whether there are other vehicles to assist in a pursuit. Two vehicles are desirable; three are optimal. More than three vehicles in a pursuit usually causes more congestion than assistance.
Here’s what they do once they decide to go ahead and chase the person, according to Dees:
Many agencies carry “Stop Sticks” or other tire deflation devices intended to cripple a pursued vehicle. “Stop Sticks” are a patented device consisting of a cardboard, three-sided tube with an inner core of sharp, hollow “quills.” Three cardboard tubes are linked together lengthwise with a cord, and are usually stored in a rack on the inside trunk lid of a patrol car. When they are deployed, the officer removes them from the trunk lid and throws the tubes across the roadway where the pursued vehicle will run over them.
They are one-use items, as they are destroyed by being run over. The quills penetrate and remain stuck in the tire tread, releasing air through the hollow core. This causes a gradual deflation of the tire, as opposed to a catastrophic blowout that could send the vehicle off the road. Most people have seen police-produced video of pursued vehicles running on the rims of their wheels when the tires have been deflated, shredded and worn away.
And here’s what they do after the police chase ends:
Another good practice is to pre-plan assigned roles once the pursuit ends. For example, which officer will first approach the vehicle and give commands to the driver/occupants? If an occupant flees on foot, who will pursue? Having a K-9 unit involved is tremendously valuable in the case of a foot pursuit. It’s relatively easy to outrun a police officer wearing 25 extra lbs. of body armour, weapons and web gear, but trying to outrun a German shepherd is just foolish.