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Criminal Justice Update

Field Notes: Decide whether to pursue before making a stop


By Jeff Eggleston

I recently had the opportunity to observe driver training at the Peel Regional Police Department in Ontario, Canada, which trains officers in emergency response, pursuit, and rolling road blocks on city streets amid civilian traffic. While not advocating that approach here, I have incorporated some of their concepts into driving courses at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy. I suggest law enforcement agencies do the same within their trainings and day-to-day operations. For example:

  • When possible, officers should decide whether to pursue a violator before initiating a traffic stop.

We have stressed for years that all details of a stop be broadcast to dispatch before activating the lights. This way, the officer is ready to fully concentrate on the stop. Decisions concerning a pursuit traditionally have come later, once the violator flees. Yet at that point, the officer must think of policy, traffic conditions, road
conditions, and other issues while under the stress of pursuit.

Now, contrast that with a pursuit decision made before the stop is initiated. The officer is able to consider policy, conditions, proximity of assisting officers, and alternatives to pursuit without the distractions of adrenaline, tunnel vision, and perception blindness that can kick in under chase conditions. If an officer decides to pursue a violator, he or she also should have a plan in place for terminating the chase.

  • Broadcast the pursuit decision when calling in the stop.

On unknown or high-risk stops, the decision should be broadcast by the primary officer along with stop information. That makes other officers aware in advance of the intent of the primary officer, enabling them to decide on their actions.

Of course, these concepts require a major shift from traditional pursuit training and certainly do not fit all circumstances. Yet there is no doubt that important tactical decisions made under low-stress conditions are desirable to those made in the heat of pursuit.

Officers also should be fully aware of their department’s pursuit policy, which law enforcement agencies are required to have in place under Ohio Revised Code Section 2935.031. Policies should take into consideration agency resources, officer training, population and geography of the area served, weather and traffic conditions, nature of violation, and other pertinent issues.

Jeff Eggleston is an OPOTA driving instructor experienced in law enforcement vehicle operations and track facility design.