Why the Lawrence Kansas pursuit policy is a joke                               Back

The purpose of Police Policy is to provide police officers with a clear statement of how they are expected to perform their duties. It is the duty of every officer to study and have a working knowledge of all department policy. Not only does good policy communicate precisely to the officers the will of the department, it protects the officers from being second-guessed as long as they follow policy. Police Policy also serves as an instrument of accountability of the department to the citizens it serves. Police departments are controlled by the citizens, either by election of sheriffs or chiefs, or their appointment by elected officials. Therein lies the importance of well-written and well-researched policy.

 

Most experts who study how police agencies do their jobs agree that in most areas officers, and departments, should have wide discretion in how they do their jobs. There are three areas, however, that they agree that much less discretion should be allowed:

          Emergency Vehicle Operations  (this includes pursuit)

          Use of Force

          Use of Deadly Force

It is not hard to understand why these three areas are differentiated. They are the most high adrenaline, high risk, high mortality and high liability areas of police work. It only stands to reason that in these areas departments must carefully consider and clearly communicate how decisions are to be made, and what the consequent actions and outcomes are.

 

This is precisely where the Lawrence Kansas pursuit policy fails. What follows is a list of some of the more serious problems.

  1. There are no criteria for the initiation of the pursuit. If it is solely up to the discretion of the officer, the policy should state that. Officers need to know that they are solely accountable for the decision.
  2. 4.23 Section E “At anytime during the pursuit, any officer has the obligation to terminate the pursuit if the safety conditions outweigh the necessity of the pursuit.” If the department believes that such factors as time of day, traffic congestion, pedestrian traffic, road conditions, weather, speeds attained, seriousness of the crime, length of the pursuit (futility), the actions of the pursued, condition of the officer’s equipment enter into the decision to pursue/discontinue then it, and any other considerations should be stated in the policy. Additionally, how does the officer assess the “necessity of the pursuit”?
  3. 4.23 Section G “An officer may continue a pursuit when the officer has reason to believe the suspect(s) presents a clear and immediate threat to the safety of others…” When suspects flee there is always a clear and immediate threat, consequently the pursuit itself becomes justification of the pursuit, no matter how dangerous the conditions (i.e. school zone, rush hour).
  4. 4.23 Section G “…or apprehension outweighs the level of danger created by the fleeing suspect(s).” Probably meant to say the “ need of apprehension”. The concept of “need of apprehension” is vague. If the term is to be used as a part of a subjective determination, it should be defined in the policy.
  5. 4.23 Section H If the supervisor is to make evaluations concerning the safety of the pursuit he must be presented with criteria to aid in his decision.
  6. 4.23 Section I What does the officer do if he loses radio communication?
  7. Since one of the stated purposes of the study of other policies was to determine the number of units that may participate in a pursuit does the policy say “the number of cars reasonably necessary”? Most policies limit the number (2-3) because the chances of collision greatly increase as the number of units increases. Additionally what are the duties and responsibilities of the additional units-the policy only covers the primary and secondary.
  8. What does an officer do if he loses contact with the fleeing suspect?
  9. What do the officers do if a pursuit is terminated?
  10. Are unmarked units allowed to pursue?
  11. Are motorcycle units allowed to pursue?
  12. While there is a requirement for a Special Report to be reviewed by the chain of command there is no provision for the collection of data on pursuit activities, necessary for the evaluation of training and tracking officer compliance with policy.

 

This list is not comprehensive, but mearly points out some of the more glaring problems. I would refer the reader to:

http://pursuitwatch.org/pursuit_policies/IACP%20Model%20Policy.pdf

This is the model policy from The International Association of Chiefs of Police and serves for a guideline for many policies around the U. S.

 

Lt. David Cobb and Chief Ron Olin responded that my earlier comments were made  without knowing their training and therefore I was not in the position to comment on the policy. This is simply not true. You train to the policy, not the other way around.

 

Since the Lawrence Police Department puts so much faith in their training it would be very interesting to view their training materials on pursuit/pursuit decision-making and to find out how much time, and how often, they train. The rule of thumb is: The more subjective and discretionary the policy the more exhaustive the training must be.

 

It is obvious that since the changes made to the Lawrence policy after the “study” of a number of other policies (addition of 4.23 Section G discussed above, and the changing of a couple of other words) were so clearly superficial that the study was predetermined to rubber-stamp an already anemic Lawrence policy.

 

Jim Phillips

12/5/03

 

 

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