Small Department Shows How Interagency Approach
Prevents Police Pursuits
Honored for Making Our Roads Safer
(L-R) PursuitSAFETY Advisory Board member Ret. Capt. Thomas Gleason, Port Angeles Cpl. David Dombrowski, Esther Seoanes; Port Angeles Deputy Chief Brian Smith, Candy Priano, and Sgt. Glen Roggenbuck (inset) who was unable to attend the award ceremony at the IACP Conference, Orlando, Oct. 28, 2014.
By Ellen Deitz Tucker
PursuitSAFETY Media Relations Associate
Press Release: October 14, 2014
CHICO, CA—PursuitSAFETY, a national nonprofit working to reduce the incidence of avoidable police pursuits, has announced the 2014 winners of its Safer Way Award. Sergeant Glen Roggenbuck and Corporal David Dombrowski of the Port Angeles, Washington Police Department will be honored for the arrest of a violent felon which they carefully planned and executed to avoid a police pursuit. The Safer Way Award recognizes law enforcement agencies and officers who prevent dangerous vehicular pursuits by using innovative methods of suspect apprehension.
"Police vehicular pursuits pose more danger to the law-abiding public than any other law enforcement tactic, while at the same time posing one of the greatest risks to police themselves," said Jonathan Farris, chairman of the PursuitSAFETY board. Conservative estimates based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data count one American per day dying as a result of a police pursuit. One-third of those killed are innocent bystanders; one in nine is a law enforcement officer.
How Port Angeles Planned Ahead
In Port Angeles, a city of slightly under 20,000 on the nation’s northwest border, an interagency team led by Sgt. Roggenbuck executed a felony arrest warrant for David Markishtum in September 2009. The operation attracted the attention of PursuitSAFETY because of careful precautions taken to demobilize the suspect's vehicle. "We've done other high-risk arrests," said Cpl. Dombrowski, "but in those cases the suspect did not have a known vehicle or we could not get close to it safely. This time we 'spiked' the vehicle." The officers placed spike strips — tire deflation devices — behind the wheels of Markishtum’s vehicle to prevent his flight.
Two hours after learning Markishtum was hiding in a Port Angeles residence, Sgt. Roggenbuck had assembled a team from area agencies, planned the arrest, and briefed and deployed officers to form a perimeter around the suspect, who had parked his SUV next to an alley behind the house where he hid. Concerned that Markishtum might flee out the back door and into his car when he saw police, Roggenbuck had officers station cruisers to block the entrance to the alley and to both corners of the street in front, while placing the spike strips behind the tires of the SUV.
Cpl. Dombrowski, a trained crisis negotiator, drove into the front yard and used a PA system to talk the suspect into surrendering. The suspect emerged from the house with his hands behind his head after only ten minutes.
Inspiration for the Safer Way Award
"Innocent bystanders have been killed when arrest warrants were executed without forethought and pursuits ensued," said Candy Priano, founder and executive director of PursuitSAFETY. "Five years ago, the niece of a bystander killed by a fleeing driver began tracking stories of departments who worked carefully to prevent pursuits. This volunteer, Michelle Toon, brought the expert work of the Port Angeles department to our attention, suggesting that we honor officers who prevent unnecessary tragedy."
PursuitSAFETY decided to take a closer look at the department whose story inspired the Safer Way Award. "We found a professionally run department that has taken many measures to prevent or quickly conclude pursuit situations," Priano said.
Leveraging Interagency Cooperation
Deputy Police Chief Brian Smith told PursuitSAFETY that emergency situations are not uncommon in Port Angeles, which is not only the Olympic Peninsula’s major port and host to a ferry service with Victoria, British Columbia, but also a gateway to the 1,442 square-mile Olympic National Park. Smith described a 2011 police pursuit that began to the city's southwest and entered the national park. Although the Clallam County officer who first tried to hail the speeder soon discontinued pursuit, National Park rangers picked the pursuit up again. It only ended when the fleeing driver left the park, entered Port Angeles, and drove over a spike strip that Sgt. Roggenbuck threw in the driver's path.
But such dangerous situations are not daily occurrences, either, Smith explained. Especially in smaller cities, "Police deal with high-risk, low-frequency events." To cope with this aspect of the job, Cpl. Dombrowski said, "we train! Not just within our department — also at the interagency level."
Indeed, vehicular pursuits are complicated in most of the nation by overlapping law enforcement jurisdictions which have different pursuit policies. Port Angeles usually avoids this problem. It has joined with nine other area agencies, including neighboring city police departments, the Clallam County Sheriff's Department, the Lower Elwha Tribal Police, local divisions of the US Border Patrol and the Washington State Patrol, and a joint narcotics task force to conduct regular Emergency Vehicle Operations courses (EVOC). These cover driving, decision-making and communication. "When all the agencies train together, using each other’s certified instructors, you’re more likely to be on the same page," Smith said.
Roggenbuck credited Smith for leading the interagency group to adopt an "incident command structure" — as recommended by the National Tactical Officers Association — that "guides us through the planning process" when responding to emergencies. Communication among agencies is good also, Roggenbuck said. "We work together almost every day. I don’t think the first time I sit down to talk with a member of another agency should be in the middle of an emergency."
Given that almost any vehicular pursuit in the area is likely to cross jurisdictions, members of the EVOC group agreed to use the same radio frequency. This is key in tactics used to end pursuits safely, for example by directing an officer to get ahead of the fleeing driver and throw a spike strip in his path, as Roggenbuck did in 2011. In Port Angeles’ EVOC group, any officer deploying a spike strip must "be in voice contact with the lead or secondary officer in the pursuit, getting real-time information," Smith said. "We all wear very expensive radios on our belts that allow us to talk to each other." The Port Angeles Department also decided to equip all its marked cruisers with "Opticom" devices that turn the traffic lights in a pursuit path green.
"When under stress, officers will revert to their training. So we have an obligation to train our officers and give them the equipment they need," said Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher. His department also emphasizes careful supervision and review. After each police pursuit, the shift supervisor writes a memo detailing the circumstances and the decision-making process the officer followed in deciding whether to allow or end the pursuit, and this memo is reviewed by superiors.
Retired Maryville, Illinois Chief Richard Schardan, Sr., who administers the Safer Way Award, commented on the decision to single out an incident of careful police work from 2009. "The Safer Way Award, although now in its fourth year, is a relatively new award to the law enforcement community. Previously we have honored large departments who reviewed and reformed their pursuit policies.
"This year we wanted to recognize a smaller department whose forward-thinking approach provides a model for other agencies," Schardan said. "Port Angeles has learned to leverage its resources by working through the interagency process. This enables them to train and equip officers to safely manage the situations that too often, in too many jurisdictions around the nation, trigger pursuits."
The award will be presented October 28th at the 121st Annual Conference and Exposition of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Orlando, FL.
(About the author: Ellen Deitz Tucker is a freelance writer and editor who serves as Media Relations Associate for PursuitSAFETY. She traveled to Port Angeles to interview the Chief and Deputy Chief and other officers. Ellen's sister Donna Deitz died as an innocent bystander to a 2012 police pursuit in Belmont, NC. Contact Deitz Tucker at email@example.com)
PursuitSAFETY is the only national nonprofit civilian organization working to reduce deaths and injuries of innocent bystanders and police officers as a result of vehicular police pursuit and response call crashes. We are working for a safer way through educational outreach to the public and to law enforcement and by uniting families of innocent victims.