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.