As a journalist, if you have not taken your first deep dive into the world of police pursuits, you may not be aware of many questions to help with your story. Obviously if there are injuries or deaths, you will want to focus on those. So many pursuits adversely affect families of innocent bystanders and law enforcement officers. That is a major part of what PFC is trying to reduce.
However, as you delve deeper with specific incidents, we recommend that you start with the agency’s emergency vehicle operation (EVO) guidelines. Here is a link to the City of Madison (WI) guidelines, which Pursuit For Change Chief Advocate Jon Farris was fortunate enough to support during their 2017 rewrite. https://www.cityofmadison.com/police/documents/sop/EmergencyVehOper.pdf
Understanding the pursuing agency’s pursuit policies is a great place to start your research, but you can only do that if you have a copy of their EVO Guidelines. So ask. Most agencies will release those.
Termination of Pursuits
Another activity that happens often is the termination of a pursuit or disengagement from the pursuit. Oftentimes police will cease a pursuit “if the pursuit presents an unreasonable danger of death or great bodily harm which outweighs the public interest involved in apprehension.”
Sadly, we see many crashes nearly immediately after the pursuit was terminated. It should be fairly simple to research what termination and/or disengagement means because well-written EVO pursuit policies will specifically define “termination” or “disengagement.” (See page 3 of the linked Madison policy.) Any crash during a chase, and even after an officer terminates the chase, should still be defined and recorded as a pursuit-related crash.
You may also hear the term “backing off” used to define disengaging the pursuit. When completed properly, disengaging means lights and siren are turned off and the officer stops or turns onto a perpendicular street. “Dropping back” on the other hand, is not particularly relevant because as long as the fleeing driver can see the officer in his / her rear view mirror, they will typically continue to run.
As a supporter of law enforcement, I would like to believe when we’re told, “the officer terminated the pursuit before the crash,” that it is always true. Realistically though, that is not the case.
Pursuit For Change defines three possible scenarios for each time law enforcement states that they terminated a pursuit.
The officer did stop and disengage, as defined above and or as defined in that agency’s EVO guidelines. PFC believes this to be the most common scenario.
The officer “dropped back”, but continued to follow (perhaps even with their emergency lights and siren on). This does not meet a reasonable definition of termination or disengagement.
The officer did not disengage.
We read articles with “disengaged” and “terminated” reported time and time again. However, too many times these same pursuits resulted in injuries or deaths of innocent bystanders.
Typically the only means to validate whether a pursuit termination was properly executed is to review time-stamped dash cam footage or, for agencies with GPS-equipped LEO vehicles, review of that GPS tracking data. Some agencies will share this but others may not.
Good luck with your research.
Other Media Tips and Information
We’ll continue to update this section with more materials in the future.