To chase or not to chase, law enforcement officers make quick decisions

A law enforcement officer tests pursuit driving skills at SC Criminal Justice Academy
A law enforcement officer tests pursuit driving skills at SC Criminal Justice Academy

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Choosing to chase a suspect is one of those tough decisions for police.

There are lots of factors to consider: where you are, time of day and threat to others. Every department has its own rules to follow.

WIS went through the 1.8 mile Response Operations Course at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia. While all department policies are different, it gives officers the basics.

"We are really stressing techniques and safe tactics," said Master Instructor Kevin Gilliam.

From setting up the car, hand positions on the wheel, hand to hand steering, and starting with their feet flat on the floor under the pedals.

"So if they need all of the brake pedal they can get it to the floor," he said.

The toughest issue in a chase is intersections. That's where law enforcement has major issues with crashes, so officers are taught to stop, and visually and verbally check, using barrels as cars.

"If we're making a right turn, we're going to check to our left first and in fact we're going to check there twice, so what they have to do is look and say blue, red, blue," said Gilliam.

As a pursuit continues, speeds are considered. A supervisor is typically listening and evaluating the situation.

"They're going to ask a series of questions," said Maj. Florence McCants. "What's the reason for the chase? Can we identify this person at another time?"

Depending on the offense, something simple like the lights are off or no seat belt, a decision to stop might be made.

"A great deal of the time, chases are called off," said McCants.

Many factors are considered, especially on downtown city streets.

"They're looking at the road conditions, the weather conditions, the time of day, those factors." she said.

All the while, an officer is concentrating on their visual focus.

"We talk a lot about visual focus because 90% of driving has to do with what you see," said Gilliam. "We're looking to the side of the road here, and I'm looking all the way over to the walkway there because that's the direction I'm wanting the car to go."

To keep both the public and the suspect they might be pursuing, safe.

One overturned cone on the test course and an officer fails.

Each department has its own pursuit policy.  They vary based on how many officers, and location.

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