Sign The Guestbook
View The Guestbook
Archived Guestbook
Submit An Article
Staff List
Privacy Policy



From the Field

What goes on in a pursuit from inside the patrol car
By Jim Holcomb

We see them every day-they're the high-speed pursuits that bring us to the edge of our seats as we watch the drama unfold. Sometimes they drag on, but there is always the hope of a dramatic ending. But, that's not the way the police view it. For the officer in the black and white patrol car it's all pre-planned.

On the initial realization that the pursuit is in progress several things happen. First, all windows are rolled up so the siren won't drown the pursuit broadcast out. The driver officer concentrates on the suspect vehicle to the exclusion of everything else. The passenger officer secures any loose items (notebooks, ticket books, flashlights, etc) so they won't fly around inside the patrol car and possibly interfere with the driver. Seat belts are checked. The shotgun is unlocked, and the passenger officer continues to advise communications of the location, speed and the actions of the suspects. An air unit is requested by communications and will call out cross traffic as the pursuit approaches intersections. All responsibility for the pursuit rests with the senior officer in the primary black and white, unless a field supervisor relieves him.

When the license number is obtained, communications does a series of checks. They check for "wants and warrants" to see if the car is stolen or if it is being sought in connection with a felony warrant. The registered owner's name and address will be checked in order to see if the vehicle is heading towards, or away from, a local address. If the car is not reported stolen, communications will try and contact the registered owner to determine if the car may be an "unreported stolen."

All of this happens as the chase continues. Public safety is always a first concern and is weighed against several factors: First, the risk involved in continuing the pursuit (vs) allowing the suspect to get away. Second, the likelihood the suspect may cause harm to someone if not caught immediately.

Supervisors take part in the decision process by monitoring the pursuit and also consider alternative ways to end the chase. One technique for stooping a chase is called the Pursuit Intervention Technique (PIT).

Optimally, it is done at 35 miles per hour (or less). When the police car maneuvers its front quarter panel next to the rear quarter panel of the suspect's vehicle, the police officer turns his steering wheel one quarter turn in the direction of the suspects vehicle-accelerates-and causes the suspects vehicle to loose traction and spin out.

This is mostly used by the CHP, but is slowly being adopted by other agencies. Another tool is a "spike strip." Spike strips only work well when the path of the suspect's vehicle can reasonably be determined, the roadway is clear of other cars, and can be deployed far enough in advance of the pursuit.

While these and other methods of stopping a pursuit are always being considered, none are with out potentially dangerous "side effects." That's why they are used so sparingly!

When the pursuit finally ends, caution is paramount. But, getting immediate control of the situation as soon as possible (without someone getting hurt) is the ultimate goal. Overall, the high-speed chase is the single most physically and emotionally demanding event an officer can face during a "normal" day. They are just as demanding for those of us who cover them from the helicopter as well.

About the Author

JIM HOLCOMB is a Reporter-Pilot for KCOP-TV in Los Angeles. He is a former 26-year veteran of the LAPD and has worked in several diverse assignments, including tactical flight operations in the Air Support Division.