Deciding to Save a Life

by David Pienta (below) Too many times we see officers pursuing a vehicle and that pursuit leading to wrecked vehicles (including patrol vehicles), injuries (including officers), and even deaths. So when should you pursue? Below, I will walk you through a decision-making ladder to explain the decision-making process. The very first question we must ask: If we pursue, are we within agency policy and state law. Violating either one of these is asking for discipline and an expensive civil lawsuit. Second, is this person likely to seriously injure or kill someone if not immediately stopped?  If the person just committed a forcible felony, the case can be made that there is a high probability that this is the case. But that does not mean we can go all out and do whatever it takes to apprehend the felon. Third, what are the road and lighting conditions?  If it has just rained or it is in the middle of winter, the chances are very high of a crash. If it is 2 PM and schools are letting out with crowded school zones in the vicinity of the pursuit, think long and hard about continuing the pursuit. If it is at night, it is easy to overdrive your headlights at high speed. It is also harder to judge distance at night. Fourth, how much traffic is on the road? If it is 5 PM rush hour traffic, the likelihood of a traffic crash occurring due to the congestion is very high. Fifth, do you have the person’s identity? Can you make out a face to match it up with a picture of the vehicle registrant? If so, cut the pursuit off and get a warrant. If you know their identity, there is nothing to gain in continuing the pursuit unless the person is an immediate danger to the lives of the public. Remember, when adrenaline is elevated, heart rate is elevated. As heart rate increases, cognitive brain, activity decreases, resulting in poor decision-making skills.  This is where we depend on training. Use combat breathing to lower your heart rate. Make a good decision; lives depend on it.