Need to chase must outweigh risk

Georgia is a diverse and ever-changing state. As a result, it is impossible to have a uniform, one-size-fits-all policy governing police vehicle pursuits.

Nevertheless, the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police realized years ago that local law enforcement agencies needed assistance with the development of vehicle-pursuit policies. While GACP defers to local agencies to regulate, restrict or prohibit vehicle pursuits, the GACP thoroughly examined this issue and developed some guidance for Georgia law enforcement executives regarding the development of sound, legal and common-sense vehicle-pursuit policies.

We addressed statistical data regarding police pursuits, Georgia case and statutory law regarding pursuits, pursuit policy considerations, the Precision Immobilization Technique maneuver and technological alternatives to pursuit.

Obviously, there are inherent dangers associated with police vehicle pursuits, and it is a subject that is increasingly scrutinized by the public. Police pursuits can result in the apprehension of forcible felons or traffic violators who have created a danger to the public. Unfortunately, pursuits also can result in the death or injury to innocent bystanders and the police officers who are pursuing the suspect.

Law enforcement agencies across the country are faced with the question of when to engage in pursuits. The Georgia Supreme Court has succinctly articulated this dilemma: “While ‘it is desirable ... that the officer overtake[s] and apprehend[s] the criminal, ... it is equally as important that innocent persons, whether or not connected with the emergency to be met, not be maimed or killed in the operation.’”

As a result of the GACP’s research, the following recommendations were provided:

Policy. Law enforcement agencies should promulgate a policy governing pursuits that sets forth guidelines to assist the officer in pursuing with due regard for the safety of the public.

The agency’s pursuit policy may be either a judgmental or a restrictive policy. Regardless of which type of pursuit policy is chosen, the officer should always weigh the risks of the pursuit versus the immediate or potential danger to the public should the suspect remain at large. At all times during the pursuit, the need to apprehend the suspect must outweigh the level of danger created by the pursuit. The agency’s pursuit policy should be specifically tailored to the size, location and mission of the agency.

Training. In addition to the officers’ basic training, agencies should provide officers with periodic training regarding their agency’s pursuit policy. Furthermore, emergency vehicle operations in-service training should be afforded to traffic-enforcement level officers with greater frequency.

Reporting. Agencies should require officers to report every time they engage in a pursuit, as well as when a pursuit is initiated but discontinued by the officer. The supervisor on duty during the pursuit also should review the report and provide information regarding the pursuit. These reports should be periodically reviewed by agency heads because they may reveal patterns or trends that could indicate training needs and/or policy modifications.

To review the GACP report, PapersReports.html.

Frank V. Rotondo is executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.

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