Police Pursuits

A number of people have approached me concerning an LAPD pursuit, which took place last Friday. They heard me narrate (in real time on KCAL News) the pursuit, commenting on police policies and procedures.

The following is an article I wrote 12 years ago concerning police pursuit driving training, which was conducted down at the Harbor Division in the late 70’s. I found it to be as relevant now as it was then…

(Originally written in April 2007)

It was on an unusually hot spring day, which was to prove our undoing. The black and whites we used at the time were Ford Matadors, which could really ‘haul the mail’ so to speak. We were taught about the ‘ten’ scale of braking. The numerical value of ten being the most and one was the least in terms of the braking applied during pursuit driving. The training cars were equipped with roll bars and had not one vestige of amenities other than the emergency lights and a working siren.

We learned how to negotiate the turns using the apex of a driving line when going into and then out of, any given turn at high speed. We learned controlled braking in conjunction with controlled steering to keep pace with the ‘bad guys’ and simply allow the ‘bad guys’ to overdrive themselves. I did fair on the driving but nothing spectacular and then my partner at the time Vic took over. Vic was from back east and he was pretty sure he had this whole affair down to a gnat’s behind, (the intricacies of pursuit driving that is!) I was strapped in the back seat as we started pursuing one of the driving instructors who was similarly equipped with a Ford Matador. The course was very serpentine with a few straightaways with cones marking the outer boundaries of the fictitious city streets. Vic was gaining on the instructor and was shouting at the top of his lungs over the siren, how he was catching up to him and there was no way he was going to get away from us and how he was going to show him how pursuit driving was done back in Jersey City!

Now things have a way of humbling you in life and this particular exercise in the art of advanced Police Science was about to prove this theorem beyond a reasonable doubt. About half way through the circuitous course, the instructor suddenly flipped the car 180 degrees around and then started driving backwards! To add insult to injury, he simply smiled and then waved at us and started pulling away from us while driving backwards through the rest of the course! He beat us by a country mile.

We all got somewhat queasy from the backseat from the combination of all the heat and the engine exhaust and acrid smoke of melted tires throughout the day but it was still great fun. The ‘skid pan’ was a huge paved area that had voluminous amounts of soapy water sprayed over it. We drove into it at speeds up to 60 mph and then slammed on the brakes and learned how to drive into the direction of the skid and then regain control of the car. At the time, I did not realize that this training would prove to be invaluable in the real world of police work but it really did. In many of the pursuits I was ever involved in I simply kept pace with the suspects even though they may have pulled away from me at times and eventually they out-drove themselves, and then crashed.

Learning how to communicate over the radio during a pursuit and broadcasting the suspect’s personal and vehicle description and crime the committed along with the direction of travel and block numbers especially at night while simultaneously watching for cross traffic and listening for updates from the air unit really proved to be an art in itself. The first few that we did around the Academy itself were to be eye-opening experiences. On the actual streets in real pursuits, I found that it took all of your concentration and focus to keep up with everything that was happening at warp speed. Sometimes, a black and white would forget to roll up its windows as they pursued a suspect and the responding units had a difficult time trying to decipher just what it was that was being broadcast over the siren in the background as they broadcast their pursuit. If you ever miscommunicated anything at all, it threw everything into disarray. Responding units went in the wrong direction and everyone ‘stepped’ on your broadcast just trying to find out just where in the city you really were. It became one big fur ball of black and whites and suspects going in every direction trying not to crash into one another.

In the Academy we learned the book procedures for pursuits. Code Two was without lights and sirens but responding as soon as is practicable and safe while obeying all the laws of the road. Code Three was with lights and sirens and basically disregarding every vehicle code ever set into law. What we found out on the streets was the fact that traveling without lights and sirens proved to be more efficient and safe than traveling with lights and siren. Civilian drivers would panic and slam on their brakes or for some unknown reason turn into you when they saw you coming up on them. All in all the pursuit driving portion of the Academy proved to be a very solid foundation for the real streets.

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