Be Careful Out There

by David Pienta
On Average, Errant Police Response Calls and Pursuits Take the Lives of At Least Three Innocent Civilians Every Week. [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, FBI.]

As a certified law enforcement instructor, I am always reviewing social media, videos, and other media trying to get information to use in training. Unfortunately, I see many posts by seasoned officers that are along the lines of “man, we can not be the police anymore.”

Officers like to drive fast. Many like the adrenaline and the excitement. We would be telling a lie if we said we did not like the rush. However, that rush causes the brain to cease cognitive thought and go into what I like to call “Lizard Brain.” This is when the brain relies on muscle memory and training. Due to the adrenaline and increased heart rate, you lose fine motor skills and your decision-making ability is significantly diminished.  This is the entire thought process behind needing a trained supervisor not involved in the pursuit or a police response call as the person deciding to continue or not.

Police response calls involve the need for speed. Combine speeding with the diminished decision-making skills and the chances of an unfortunate conclusion to the response call is exceptionally high.

MP Brian Gleason w/his dad, Capt. Tom Gleason.

You see, I happen to know an officer whose son was an Army MP. He was killed when his partner decided to speed and essentially joy ride on a remote area of the base they were on at the time. The MP driving went too fast around a corner and rolled the car. The car caught fire, and my friend’s son burned up. Speed and bad decision making by the officer in charge of the vehicle killed my friend’s son. While not a pursuit, the effect of the speed, adrenaline (from the speed and excitement) and decision making was the same. Every time I see him, I can see the hurt in his eyes.

Every “hot” call has the same effect as a pursuit.  The rush of adrenaline and excitement has the same result of lizard brain kicking in. This is the reason we teach combat breathing and stress management, to lower your heart rate to help you retain fine motor skills and cognitive thought.

Kelli and Jessica Uhl

I attended Below 100 training a year ago. During this training, I met Kim Schlau. She was the mother of three beautiful girls. The oldest, Jessica Uhl, was driving her middle sister, Kelli Uhl, home from an outing when Matt Mitchell, an Illinois State Trooper was on duty. Trooper Mitchell got dispatched to a wreck on the interstate while talking to his significant other about Thanksgiving shopping.

As noted, bad decisions come when the heart rate increases and the adrenaline dump begins. Trooper Mitchell keeps his significant other on the phone, driving over 100 MPH and is typing on his in-car computer all at the same time, trying to find the location of the wreck. Due to being distracted by the computer and the phone, he never hears that other emergency responders are already at the scene. Trooper Mitchell lost control of his cruiser, crossed the median and struck the car driven by Kim’s oldest daughter at over 100 MPH. The impact killed the sisters instantly. It took hours to identify them and to notify Kim about her daughters.

The same agency responsible for the deaths of her daughters had to inform Kim of their deaths. As Kim told this story in class, I could not help but break down when Kim told this story in class. I too had driven over 100 MPH going to a call (mine involved a gun pointed at a fellow deputy). It could have been me telling a family I killed their loved one.

Crash site caused by Trooper Mitchell
Uhl sister’s car

Is that police response call or pursuit worth that risk?

I hope these stories will make you think twice about your decisions, but remember, there are thousands of similar stories. They impact the families of officers and law-abiding citizens.

While these two incidents were not pursuits, the elements of adrenaline, elevated heart rate, the increased risk of bad decision making were all present, the same as a during a pursuit. Unless there is an imminent threat to you, other officers, or the public, think long and hard about the risk vs. the reward.