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POLICE PURSUIT TRAINING BEST PRACTICES: PURSUIT AND DE-ESCALATION

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The 2009 volume of the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training’s
(POST’s) Driver Training Study lists six police pursuit training “best practices.”
But one vital skill is missing. Can you spot it?
1) Use “hybrid training.” This should combine both behind-the-wheel closed-course driving
and advanced police pursuit training simulators.
2) Adopt advanced technology. SkidCars and law enforcement driving simulators (LEDS)
allow officers to safely experience very dangerous driving situations and practice proper
responses.
3) Train at high speeds. Most police pursuits are “high speed chases”; officers need to
practice driving at high speeds on varied terrains/conditions.
4) Train with interference vehicles. The world is not a closed course; officers need practice
avoiding moving vehicles of all sorts (as well as pedestrians, etc.).
5) Practice on what you use. Practice vehicles should be as similar to service vehicles as
possible (i.e., make, model, equipment, weight distribution, handling, etc.).
6) Prepare for rain, snow, fog, and darkness. Training should include all the visibility and
weather conditions that officers might encounter during a shift.
All of these are excellent practices. But this list of best practices focuses entirely on training
officers to safely and successfully engage in high-speed pursuit. The one item missing from this list is
the most fundamental skill of all:
7) Prepare officers to determine when a pursuit is worthwhile. Law enforcement
should de-escalate whenever possible; while officers are excellent drivers, most
suspects are not.

REAL-WORLD DATA: HIGH SPEED PURSUIT IN L.A. COUNTY

The Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury, a volunteer citizen body, is selected each year in Los
Angeles County. They are empowered to choose what areas of local government to investigate. The
resulting report—numbering in the hundreds of pages—covers dozens of issues, small and large. Their
2016–2017 report included an alarming breakdown of law enforcement vehicle pursuit outcomes in
their county.
Out of a total of 421 chases, they found that 17% resulted in collisions, and 11% resulted in
death or serious injury. Even more upsetting, only 67% resulted in apprehension of the suspects being
pursued. In at least eight cases the suspect was in a collision (possibly resulting in injury or death, and
always causing property damage) and yet still escaped arrest. The grand jury noted:
According to a report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the
National Institute of Justice, 91% of high-speed chases are initiated in response to a non-violent crime.
The study analyzed nearly 8,000 high-speed chases in the IACP’s database. It found that 42% involved
a simple traffic infraction, another 18% involved a stolen vehicle, and 15% involved a suspected drunk
driver. Similar statistics are expected for the County.
www.PursuitResponse.org
These results suggest some questions. Is it worth putting lives at risk by traveling through urban
areas at high speed to apprehend somebody who ran a red light? Or who failed to signal a turn? If a
driver is drunk, does it make sense to engage him in a high-speed pursuit, making him even more
dangerous to bystanders? (source, p. 144)

POLICE PURSUIT TRAINING: DE-ESCALATING YOURSELF BEFORE ADDRESSING THE SITUATION

This final question—about the advisability of possibly goading unfit drivers to flee—is especially
important. In almost all cases the police officer successfully avoided a collision (only two of the 421
chases ended in a police vehicle crashing). The rest of the accidents were presumably the result of the
suspect’s recklessness.
“This perfectly illustrates why my training goal is to prepare officers to have a controlled
response to a crisis situation,” explains Chuck Deakins, FAAC Chief Public Safety Specialist/Pursuit
Training Technologies (and a retired Lieutenant Commander). “Officers need to always take into
account not only what can result from their own actions, but what might result from the suspect’s
attempts to flee.”
As such, police pursuit training professionals often foreground the two sides of de-escalation.
These can be applied across all areas of law enforcement, but are especially apparent in the examples
uncovered by the LA County Civil Grand Jury: Officers must learn tools and develop habits of first deescalating
themselves—lowering the urgency of their own emotional response—so that they can then
properly judge and de-escalate a situation.
In many cases, police driving skills are not the core issue. Most officers are well prepared to
pilot their vehicles at high speed. Suspects are not, and officers need to use every tool at their disposal
to prevent suspects from beginning to flee and creating hazards as they do.

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