This is going to be a long one, but I feel it’s important enough to go into detail.
I watch a lot of police chase videos. I don’t mean the cheesy news helicopter ones we see on those dumb “Scariest Police Chases” shows that are common in California. I watch the raw video from the police officer’s dashcam and bodycam. This perspective lets you truly see how harrowing and crazy some chases actually get, and often times why officers make the decisions they do.
I started watching these years ago after YouTube recommended them. I watch a lot of dashcam footage, so I guess YouTube thought they were related. I honestly think everyone should watch dashcam compilations as they help you notice predictive behavior that often indicates an idiot is about to do idiot things and put your life at risk. I know I’m a much better defensive driver because of all the dashcam videos I watch and continue to watch on a daily basis. That idiot behavior extended naturally into the dashcams from police chases.
It should be noted that I have been involved in two high speed chases while serving in my capacity as a security officer in the Navy while stationed in Jacksonville. One on base and one off base. I went through EVOC (Emergency Vehicle Operator Course) and Advanced EVOC. In addition I took an offensive driving course in Italy that was designed for bodyguards. I took it because I was bored. Offensive driving has saved my hide a few times. I believe that knowing how to be defensive and offensive can help make a better driver. But I digress…
So after watching these chases for years now, here are my observations about the police, suspects, and drivers caught up in chases.
There is an effect known as “contempt of cop” or “occupational arrogance.” I am personally convinced there is something psychological going on, as I have seen this behavior in leadership and authority not related to policing or governance. The person becomes irate that someone is not listening to them, obeying their commands, or questioning their authority. It leads to abusive behavior: mentally and physically. The longer they have to chase you, the worse it can get. Throw adrenaline on top of it and things can escalate quickly.
There is some good news here, though. Police are aware of this effect. While it’s been known since at least the 60’s (when “contempt of cop” was first used), it was the Rodney King beating that got police leadership to notice it. However, it took a couple of decades for police to really start educating officers about it and teaching techniques to overcome it. There are absolutely still instances of it, but I think the training and education has helped reduce the incidents, especially after chases.
It becomes obvious watching police chases that “contempt of cop” is more prevalent during the chase than after the chase. Police taking unnecessary risks, getting angry, etc. while the chase is happening. This is why the majority of police departments have chase thresholds to stop chases when they get too out of hand in relation to the offense of the suspect. For example, the threshold for a stolen car is lower than the threshold for a murder suspect. Police officers usually have to relay road, weather, and traffic conditions, as well as speeds when initiating a pursuit, and keep updating traffic and speed conditions as it continues.
After a pursuit is announced, leadership will ask for the reason. The reason lets them know where the threshold should be and then they monitor variables. Officers report in location, direction, traffic, and speed of the suspect. If traffic gets too heavy and bystanders are at too great of a risk or they feel the officers involved are too engaged and losing focus, leadership can halt the pursuit. It’s common for officers to have the authority to stop a pursuit from their end as well if they feel it’s endangering the public too much.
Some areas will pull officers back to a safe following distance and turn their lights and sirens off to take pressure off the suspect so they stop driving so erratically. They let a police helicopter keep an eye on the suspect and pull the officers back in when it’s safe to do so. The eyes in the sky lead the officers to the suspect. Where you see chases less likely to a stop is when they are chasing suspects related to violent crime: murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, etc.
In a significant number of areas, police are using methods to stop chases more safely. The use of stop sticks is more common and grapplers are becoming more accessible. While some departments have stopped using the PIT (Precision Immobilization Technique)/TVI (Tactical Vehicle Intervention) due to them being unsafe, many departments still allow them, or allow them only under certain circumstances. While in most cases the PIT/TVI just spin the vehicle around and allow officers to box the suspect in, they sometimes result in crashes, including rollovers. Suspects and their passengers have been injured and fatalities have happened. I’m not sure eliminating the PIT/TVI is the answer, but putting restraints on it, such as maximum safe speed, road conditions, roadside hazards (ditches, trees, fences), and if passengers are involved, should all be taken into consideration before performing a PIT/TVI.
I do not support the “no chasing” approach that some people want. I think it’s important to apprehend people who are a threat to society. However, I do believe that if the license plate is visible and it’s not a stolen car, then arrest should happen at the suspect’s residence later instead of chasing them down in a pursuit. I believe more discretion is needed on when to initiate and stop a pursuit to better ensure public safety, and that has to be weighed against the threat to public safety the suspect presents. I don’t think there is a one answer fits all solution here, but common sense and tactical awareness go a long way in determining if pursuit is warranted or not.
One of the more common things you hear from police during pursuits is them getting irritated at other cars on the road. It’s commonplace to hear an officer yell, “Get the f**k out of the way!” to a car that is not pulling over or is braking. There are a few issues there, and I’ll cover them in the drivers’ section.
The funniest thing I have noticed about suspects in police chases is how many of them still use their turn signals when they change lanes and make turns. Even as they’re blowing through stop signs and red lights and going 100 MPH, they still use their turn signals. The police are very appreciative of this behavior.
There are four trends in chases that concern me.
The first is the Dodge Challenger, which is disproportionately involved in police chases and successful evasions. Is there a Challenger Challenge on social media that I’m not aware of to bait police into a pursuit to see if you can get away? The Challenger can easily reach speeds up to and over 150 MPH. They are so common that the Arkansas State Police now deploy units capable of 150 MPH (other vehicles are regulated at 130 MPH). The specialized units were created solely to chase Challengers and similarly fast vehicles. This kind of tit for tat escalation should be concerning for all motorists and citizens. I am specifically concerned because I worry this is an escalation solely because of the “contempt of cop” discussed above instead of just not chasing them and getting their plate info and arresting them later at their house.
The second is the complete disregard for the lives of others, often over something as silly as an expired license, where the suspect could have just taken a ticket and been on their way. There have always been scary chases, but they were rare: rare enough that TV stations could do a “Scariest Police Chases” show only once a year. Now? Now they could do one once a week. I have no answer as to why things have escalated so much. Suspects blow through stop signs and red lights at excessive speed and with complete disregard to their own lives and the lives of other motorists. It’s not uncommon now to see suspects aware of police tactics and aggressively counter them.
The third is this idea that a suspect knows the law better than the officer. That may or may not be the case, but the officer is not a judge. If you disagree with the officer, go to court. Arguing with them about “your rights” and “they have no authority” or “I want a supervisor,” really makes suspects look like fools on video who watched too many armchair lawyer videos on YouTube. Sure, you can ask for a supervisor, but there is zero obligation to get you one. Then suspects are angry that no supervisor showed up or when the supervisor arrives and agrees with the officer. Are you going to ask for the supervisor’s supervisor now? This idea that you know the law better leads to a lot of pursuits as the suspect refuses to work with the officer and speeds off. Just hand the officer your license, take the ticket, and go to court if you disagree. That’s what the courts are for. I’ve gotten out of several tickets I disagreed with by going to court. I’ve never gotten out of a ticket by arguing with the officer on the side of the road.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying not to mention key phrases needed to protect your rights, such as “I don’t consent to searches” or “I don’t answer questions.” What I am saying is arguing with the police over this stuff makes you look like an idiot. Say the phrases. Hand over your license. Sign the ticket. Go to court to get it dismissed. The advice to “don’t answer questions” is 100% legit. Police ask questions about where you’re coming from, why you were there, etc. to check for certain behaviors that alert them to nervousness. Given how much people are scared of police nowadays, nervousness is natural, and should not be an alert to the officer, so just keep your mouth shut and don’t answer questions without a lawyer present. This may seem silly, but saying something like, “80 in a 65? That’s not right, I was only doing 75!” just admitted you were speeding and it’s on their bodycam, which means you’re not getting that ticket dismissed in court.
The fourth trend is the new nervousness and fear of police that I mentioned just above. This has led to police chases as the suspect gets scared and runs instead of pulling over. It has led to people refusing to pull over right away and driving miles to where they think they’ll be safe or where there are family or other witnesses. The problem with doing so is that you are now engaged in “felony fleeing and eluding.” I understand why people are afraid, especially people of color. As a white male who has never feared for his life during a police encounter (even when pulled over by four officers in a small Alabama town), I cannot relate to the fear people of color have when getting pulled over. I cannot imagine what must be going through their mind as those lights turn on. I can only offer this advice: running increases the danger. Running adds “contempt of cop” to your encounter, increasing the danger. Running adds guns being drawn on you as soon as you finally stop or are stopped, increasing the danger. Increasing the danger and likelihood of a bad encounter seems counterproductive if you’re afraid of a police enounter.
I’m actually amazed at how many suspects successfully elude a police pursuit. If they are willing to be absolutely reckless and have a fast enough car they can get away. The police have to at least slow down a bit at stop signs and red lights and the suspect does not (if they’re willing to risk their lives doing so). This leads to the police falling behind. Once they are behind enough, the suspect can turn off the road and hide or continue fleeing in a direction the officers are not aware of. It’s not uncommon to hear officers gripe about stop signs and red lights in their dashcam videos. I think sometimes they would prefer to be able to blow through them as well, and sometimes they do: especially if they have a partner in the car who can yell out “clear” as they approach an intersection.
One thing is absolutely certain watching all the police chase dashcams: too many drivers are not paying attention to their rear-view mirrors as they drive. We were taught in Driver’s Ed to constantly scan our rear-view and side mirrors in addition to the windshield view. It’s clear drivers aren’t really doing that now. Are they no longer teaching this? Have we become too reliant on blind spot warning systems that we don’t pay attention to our mirrors anymore? You should not be surprised when an officer is behind you with their lights and sirens on and you’re blocking the route. You should have seen that pursuit coming behind you already and been ready for it. But you weren’t watching your rear-view mirrors.
Keeping an eye on the rear-view mirror is even more important today than it ever has been because cars are way quieter on the inside than they used to be. Inside older cars you could hear sirens a long way off, but in modern cars you sometimes can’t hear them until they’re right on top of you. I don’t know why manufacturers thought this was the safe way to go, because it is definitely not safe. It doesn’t matter if motorists want quieter vehicles if it creates unsafe conditions where they can’t hear emergency vehicle sirens, motorcycles, approaching trains, etc.
On the complete opposite side of cars not knowing a chase is on them until they’re blocking the officer right behind them, is the drivers who panic and make the situation worse for everyone as they veer into another lane without looking or slam on their brakes.
So let’s cover what you SHOULD do if a pursuit is coming up behind you.
1. Stay predictable. Police are aware of the speed limit and what traffic is doing and they take that into account. Staying at your speed in your lane is actually the best approach to take, because it’s predictable and police can account for it. Don’t hit your brakes and slow down. If you can get out of the lane they are in safely, then do so, even if that means speeding up a bit to get ahead of the vehicle you were passing. Hitting your brakes or slamming on your brakes or aggressively or recklessly changing lanes complicates things for the pursuing officers and can cause a chain reaction that can lead to the suspect getting away or an accident. It’s okay to speed to get out of their way: they’re not concerned about you temporarily doing 15 over to get out of their way. If you were scanning your mirrors like you’re supposed to, you will have enough time to take action safely to either clear a lane or create a gap large enough for officers to get through from lane to lane without you having to change lanes.
2. Don’t panic. Stay focused on the traffic and road. On rural roads, pull over as much as you safely can. Remember, don’t brake quickly, just slow down and pull over as much as possible. If you have enough lead time, you can pull into a driveway or parking lot, but don’t do that if they’re too close, as you doing so could cause a safety issue for the pursuing officers and other vehicles. On divided highways and interstates, stay in your lane. Do not move to the shoulders, as suspects and officers will use them to get around you, so do not block them. What’s important is that there are gaps for the officers to get through, so speed up if you need to in order to create a gap. Only change lanes if you have enough lead time and it’s safe to do so (if the officer is immediately behind you, speed up to change lanes for them: do not brake!). Remember, predictability is taken into account by pursuing officers, and sudden braking or lane changes can put everyone at risk. On an interstate, if you’re near an exit when the pursuit is coming up on you, it’s better to not take it. Suspects and police use exit merge lanes to bypass traffic and suspects will often use them as a decoy to try to shake the pursuing officers. You don’t want to be there if that happens.
3. Be aware of your surroundings. Even if you have a green light at an intersection, it’s always advisable to look both ways before entering the intersection: at a minimum to watch for red light runners. Look for emergency vehicle lights coming your way and if you see them, don’t enter the intersection. Your sight is more important in quiet modern cars where you can’t hear the sirens until they’re really close. There are enough videos of drivers plowing into fire trucks, ambulances, and police. Don’t be the person who is in the next video of such an instance.
4. Don’t get involved. This rarely happens and even rarer still is when it actually helps instead of hinders or puts officers and the public in danger. There are times officers will ask truckers to create a rolling roadblock, but that is incredibly rare. They are coordinated with the officers and truckers who are in constant contact over CB and anyone not directly involved should not get in the way. In most instances where a civilian tries to help, it creates havoc and unsafe conditions for everyone involved. Stay out of it and let the police do their job. If you have a dashcam, then you can get involved the correct way: save the video and send it to police to help with their investigation and court case against the suspect.
Police chases are not going to end. No matter your view on whether they should happen in the first place, they are not going to stop. While the police do take some actions to protect the public during pursuits, honestly, you should rely more on yourself to protect yourself: stay predictable, don’t panic, don’t get involved, and be aware of your surroundings.
Police are constantly working on new methods and technologies to bring chases to a quick and safe end. The introduction of grapplers could be a game changer if the vehicles with grapplers attached can get to the pursuit. Not all police vehicles can get grapplers because of the weight they add. Grapplers will need to have their weight significantly reduced before they can be deployed on all police vehicles. The trials being done on electronic darts that disable vehicle computers are promising, but are not large scale deployable right now and don’t work on older model vehicles. The new spike strips that slowly let air out of tires instead of rapidly deflating them or blowing them out has significantly reduced post-strip accidents and helped bring pursuits to an end more quickly. Deploying any anti-pursuit tactics relies on timing, skill, and luck, and puts the officer deploying the tactic at risk. So it is a constant weighing of risks and variables by the pursuing officers.
Stay safe out there folks. And remember to scan those mirrors: they’re there for a reason.