Monday, July 18, 2011

Archive: The presses roll, and the carnage continues…

The following was written by Jim Phillips,'s founder, and posted on 10/10/03


They are the ultimate reality program, life and death, live and in living color. The Police Pursuit-from COPS to The Scariest Police Chases to live broadcasts- a heart thumping, adrenaline pumping high-stakes game of cat and mouse where the loser, or innocents, may pay the supreme price. In many American cities beepers sound to warn of a pursuit in progress. The voyeuristic thrill of the chase is addictive and America cannot get enough.

What is ignored by the public, as well as the breathless reporters hanging from the doors of helicopters or ex-cop narrators spouting endless streams of law and order cliches is that the drama being played out before them is deadly serious. Hundreds of people die, thousands of people are injured and millions, upon millions, of dollars worth of property damage occur, and liability insurance rates soar for police departments.

Not only are police pursuits controversial entertainment they are a hot topic in the law enforcement community, among insurance underwriters, in municipal governments and state legislatures and are of more than passing interest to most news organizations.

News in our times has evolved into a "short attention span" endeavor. Sadly it is dominated by television and the sound bite. Such may always be the practice of television-for them time is truly money.

The great advantage of print over any other news medium is the ability to examine a story and related issues in depth. There is no time limit. The ability to hold your audience is limited only by the reporter's talent. Why have many newspapers thrown this advantage out the window? Lack of talented reporters? Avoidance of controversy? Lowest common denominator? Whatever the reason, the public is not being served well. Many newspapers have abrogated their traditional, and constitutionally protected, role as part of the balance of power. The fourth estate, in many newspaper markets, is becoming nothing more than an advertising medium, dominated by multimedia conglomerates, committed to becoming evermore "snappy" and "flashy." Sound bites in print, if you will. Few reporters dig, seek, or offer more than superficial knowledge about the subjects they write about, or are prevented from doing so by their editors.

Part of what I do in my campaign for safer and smarter pursuits is to monitor local news for pursuit related stories on a nationwide basis. Daily I come across pursuit incidents that appear to be needless or reckless, or where senseless fatalities occur and I email the reporters and their editors encouraging them dig deeper into the story. With few exceptions no follow-up is done. The presses roll and the carnage continues…

Monday, July 11, 2011

Archive: Pursuit Policy is more than just pursuit policy

A well researched, well-written and well thought-out pursuit policy is not worth the paper it is written on if it ends there. Just as much thought and research should go into the training process, tracking and review. All four of these areas are critical to good pursuit policy:
  1. Policy is the foundation
  2. Training in pursuit policy, decision-making, tactics and driving.
  3. Tracking-thorough data collection allows departments to identify policy weaknesses, training deficiencies and trends that are critical to successful implementation and refinement of policy/training.
  4. Review-allows for accountability.
To have an effective policy each of these four areas must be addressed and weakness in any of them compromises a successful policy. The most difficult aspect of pursuit policy is the continued attention to the first four areas and an ongoing departmental commitment to smarter and safer pursuits.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tampa Tribune: Deadly chase was judgement call

Over the Fourth of July weekend, Hernando County Sheriff's Office Deputy John Mecklenburg died during a police pursuit. The chase also caused minor injuries to another deputy. Howard Altman of the Tampa Tribune offered an interesting article on the events that took place and HCSO's pursuit policy.

According to Altman, Hernando County's pursuit policy says "pursuits should be aimed at 'violent felony offenders only'." The pursuit that killed Deputy Mecklenburg was due to the suspect driving the wrong way, which certainly doesn't meet the "violent felony offenders only" barrier. Officials noted an investigation is ongoing.

From the article:

Driving the wrong way on a one-way street isn't a reason to give chase, but what happened next seems to be, said Jon Shane, who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The initial reports about the chase seem to "justify continued pursuit, especially after a deputy was injured," Shane said. "The person they are pursuing is the one who dictates the pursuit."

This doesn't make sense. If driving the wrong way doesn't justify a pursuit, then it should never get to the point to where an officer can be injured. Using the events that happen once a pursuit is continued to justify the pursuit enables all pursuits to be justified. In other words, "We can only pursue dangerous people, and even though the suspect only had a broken taillight once he fled he became one of those dangerous people."

John Phillips has a different take. On Dec. 13, 2001, his 20-year-old sister, Sarah, was killed during a pursuit by Orange County deputies. His family started the website PursuitWatch in March 2003 to get law enforcement to chase only people thought to have committed a violent crime.

"Any other offense is not worth the risk to the innocent public and law enforcement," Phillips said. "While someone driving the wrong way is certainly dangerous, we do not need to compound the bad decisions of others with our own. I can't think of a more common situation for law enforcement where the chance of a negative outcome is so possible."

You can read the entire article HERE.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Archive: If the bad guys hadn’t run none of this would have happened…

From 2004, thoughts on the split-second decision by Jim Phillips:


If I have heard this once I have heard it ten thousand times. While the statement is certainly true, it is far from the whole story. The decision to pursue, or not to pursue, is a complex one and fraught with many pitfalls. When police agencies say that they are “damned if they do-and damned if they don’t”- that is certainly true as well. Research has shown several important facts:

  • 40% of pursuits end in crashes. 20% of pursuits end in personal injury. 1% ends in death. Conclusion: Police pursuit is a high-risk activity with life or death consequences.
  • Less that 17% of suspects flee for an underlying felony. Most suspects flee for no drivers license, no insurance, no registration, DUI, so their parents won’t find out, or like offenses. Conclusion: Your typical fleeing suspect is most probably, young, stupid or drunk-not a hardened criminal.
  • When police departments tighten pursuit policies there is no increase in the number of suspects who flee. Conclusion: It is the same young, stupid, or drunk suspects who flee-no matter what the policy is, rampant crime is not the result of tight policy.
  • When police discontinue or decline to pursue the fleeing suspects generally respond in a short distance by trying to blend in with traffic or by ditching the car and fleeing on foot. Conclusion: When police don’t chase the suspects don’t run for long and when a pursuit becomes dangerous the decision to disengage defuses the situation.
Most of the above facts fly in the face of conventional wisdom and demonstrate that police pursuits and pursuit policy require law enforcement agencies and citizens alike to think “outside the box.” Your life depends on it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Archive: The Myth of the Split-Second Decision

From 2004, thoughts on the split-second decision by Jim Phillips


Quite often we hear that that the Pursue/No Pursue decision has to be made in a split second, and that we should allow some latitude to officers if they don’t follow policy or make poorly reasoned choices.

I can best demonstrate the fallacy of this line of reasoning by relating it to my teaching my son how to pitch in baseball. Before each pitch I taught my son to concentrate on visualizing the pitch. Curveball, fastball or change? In or away, up or down? Where was the batter likely to hit the ball if he was able to handle the pitch? What inning was it? How many outs? What was the score? What was he going to do if the batter bunted or if a base runner decided to steal? With a good baseball player there are rarely any surprises-he knows what he is going to do in virtually any situation. Courses of action dictated by the Rules of the Game, the Percentages, his Experience and by hours of Practice and all before he took a deep breath in preparation for his windup.

Good police officers do the same. Before they ever “light up” a vehicle they have already considered what they will do if the suspect vehicle does not respond appropriately:
1. Does my department’s pursuit policy permit me to pursue this suspect?
2. Are there other means of apprehension?
3. Are there any conditions present (traffic, weather, time of day etc.) that make pursuit too dangerous?
4. What is the likely outcome of the pursuit?

Life or death decisions? To be sure. Decisions made on the fly or in a split-second? Not by good, well trained officers.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Oklahoman

Mark this one down as a pursuit that got way out of hand. Last week Oklahoma City Police spotted and pursued a stolen, bright yellow SUV.

During the pursuit the suspect led police off road and through a city park. Children were playing baseball while parents were shocked at the scene playing itself out in front of them. Shortly after the pursuit exited the park a gunfight erupted between the fleeing car and police. At the end, one suspect was shot dead.

OCPD has pledged a review of the chase as it relates to the department's pursuit policy and the Police Chief has offered to meet with the concerned parents.

From the story in The Oklahoman:

John Phillips' sister died in 2001 when her car was hit by a vehicle police were chasing in Florida. Phillips operates a website,, that tracks pursuit statistics and policies.

Phillips said officers have to be trained to recognize that their job isn't always to make an arrest. Sometimes, protecting the public means stopping a chase before it gets too dangerous, and chasing a stolen vehicle through a park where children are playing would obviously fit that category, he said.

“It's fortunate that no one else was hurt,” Phillips said. “If you continue to pursue like this and allow your officers to get in these situations, it's a matter of time before an innocent person is injured or killed.”

Further, the department adopted an updated policy in 2006 after several deadly chases. The change required a supervisor to monitor the chase over the radio and determine if the circumstances were too dangerous to continue. Of course, there are several problems with a policy like this. First, since a majority of pursuit crashes occur within the first 2 minutes of a chase, relying on a supervisor to appropriately judge the conditions in time is very difficult. Next, conditions can often chance so fast that the decision to call off a pursuit might be too late. It is best to have a clear policy that states which crimes warrant a pursuit and not rely so much on conditions and supervisor intervention.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dayton Daily News

Recently Warren County Sheriff's Sgt. Brian Dulle died during a police pursuit. Police were chasing a 22-year-old who had stolen a car when Sgt. Dulle placed stop-sticks in the path of the fleeing vehicle. The suspect went to the side of the road and struck Dulle at an estimated 100 MPH. Denise Callahan of the Dayton Daily News wrote Pursuits a necessary evil of law enforcement, officials say:

John Phillips’ sister died nine years ago when she got in the middle of a police chase. The Florida man and his family created a website advocating restraint and offering research and other information about high speed police chases.

His family helped rewrite the protocols for police pursuits in Orlando and Orange County, Fla., so chases aren’t initiated unless the suspect is accused of a violent crime, he said.

“Their duty isn’t necessarily to arrest the bad guy, that’s not why they are hired,” Phillips said. “They are hired to protect us. To protect and serve is the motto we always hear. It’s the ability to understand that just because I don’t arrest this guy right now, doesn’t mean I’m not protecting and serving. In fact, I might actually be doing that by not chasing a bad guy.”

Sunday, April 17, 2011 exits Dark Ages, joins Twitter

In what should have been done at least a year ago, is now on Twitter.

Follow @PursuitWatch for news, updates, opinions, etc.

As for Facebook, it is recommended you Like PursuitSAFETY's page and join the group.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Two pursuits, 4 innocent lives lost

Tulare County Sheriff's deputies attempted a traffic stop last week. The SUV refused to stop and deputies pursued at high speeds until the suspect stuck a car, killing a mother, father, and their 17 year-old son. From the Visalia Times Delta:

The deputy followed the SUV with lights flashing and sirens blaring, said Sheriff's Lt. Keith Douglass.

Less than two miles away, at the Akers Street intersection at Caldwell, the SUV broadsided a maroon Chevrolet Impala, killing all three occupants, police reported.


"There was a supervisor and commander monitoring the pursuit the entire time," Douglass said, in response to being asked if the pursuit was safe to continue into Visalia city limits. "It was night and there was minimal traffic."

You can read the entire story HERE. While more charges could be filed, the story identifies a parole violation potentially being the only non-chase related charge.

And in Harlington, Texas, reporter Isaac Garcia has been writing about a pursuit that lead to the death of an innocent woman.

THIS story explains the suspect was under surveillance and police observed him commiting a traffic violation. When he refused to stop, police chased. He had a gun and marijuana in the car. DETAILS are slow to emerge.

HERE Mr. Garcia explains how police have been unwilling to release their vehicular pursuit policy and further details about the chase.

He has continued to cover the story, and has another story regarding policies around the region. A few interesting quotes.

Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio said information regarding his department’s pursuit policy is not exactly public information. He said that if he released the full details of the policy, criminals might use the information to evade arrest.

FALSE. A well known policy does not mean more suspects will flee. In the year after the City of Orlando changed their policy 118 suspects fled and 40,342 obeyed the order to stop. This is despite a well known and significantly followed change.

John Phillips, founder of and an advocate nationwide of safer pursuit policies, said he knows all too well of the dangers in police pursuits. In 2001, Phillips said, his sister was killed in a vehicle when police were pursuing another vehicle.

Phillips said that with the help of his website, he helped rewrite some of the pursuit polices in central Florida.

Phillips said he believes that that many pursuit policies change to be more restrictive only after the death of innocent bystanders.

Mr. Garcia did confuse a few things here. I did not start, my father did. Further, while did help OCSO and OPD rewrite their policy, the organization's efforts were spearheaded by Jim Phillips.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

5 injured in Jacksonville, FL pursuit

According to the Florida Times-Union, the Jacksonville PD pursued a driver who refused to pull over for traveling with its headlights off. Stop sticks did now slow the driver, until it ran a red light and struck another vehicle. Two people in that car, including a 7-month-old, were critically injured. The driver of the fleeing car as well as two passengers were seriously hurt.

None of the 5 injured were wearing a seatbelt, including the 7-month-old.

Further, as the Times-Union provides:

Court records show [the fleeing driver] was due to go to trial next week on charges of grand theft auto and driving with a revoked license for being a habitual traffic offender.

You can read further HERE.

While it is important to catch the bad guys, and this guy certainly is given the upcoming charges, was it worth chasing and injuring two innocent citizens to catch this guy? PursuitWatch advocates for safer and smarter pursuits, and unless the fleeing driver is believed to have been involved in a violent crime, we feel it is not worth the risk to the innocent public and law enforcement.