Let me be the first to admit — I’m guilty. We’re all guilty of it. The “it” I’m referring to is stupid or perhaps more aptly, arrogant driving. This term covers a broad spectrum of misdeeds sometimes committed by the average cop. The kind of driving I’m talking about includes driving distracted (yakking on your cell phone when state law prohibits it for every-body, including cops), speeding and tailgating for no good reason, or even busting lights and exceeding the speed limit without full emergency lights and siren on (more on this one shortly). But the king of all arrogant driving is the unnecessary pursuit, or the one that should have been dropped — before it ended in tragedy.
“There you are chasing some guy at ridiculous speeds, in heavy
traffic or through a residential neighborhood.”
In reality, pursuits don’t happen all that often in the daily routines of cops. pursuits are probably single-handedly one of the most expensive things cops cost their jurisdictions in the form of property damage, injuries and even deaths. Let me make one thing clear, pursuits, by nature, are not safe. They’re a necessary evil of this job — key word, necessary. It’s up to you to logically decide if a pursuit is necessary.
As an example, and remember I’m guilty of this too, you come across a parked stolen vehicle and you decide to “sit on it” in hopes of making an arrest. The problem with this is you’re increasing the likelihood of a pursuit, which increases the risk of there being a crash, which increases the likelihood someone will be hurt or killed. For what? To make an arrest for auto theft? Big deal. How do you know the guy who gets in to drive the car is even the one who stole it? How often do auto theft cases get reduced to joy-riding — or less? If there’s a crash, you’re the one who allowed the car to be crashed instead of simply towing it or calling the owner to come get it. That decision rests squarely on your shoulders. Is a stolen car worth someone (maybe you?) getting hurt or killed?
And then there’s the felony pursuit from what originated as a “routine” traffic stop. Again, I’m guilty as charged. You go to stop a driver for whatever infraction you’ve seen and he takes off. It’s like these guys have a commercial-grade vacuum on the back of their cars, because cops get sucked into these scenarios all the time. There you are chasing some guy at ridiculous speeds, in heavy traffic or through a residential neighbor-hood; blowing intersections at 50+ mph for what started out as a fix-it ticket.
Sometimes these guys crash and sometimes we crash — the results are never good and never justifiable. Yeah I know, the driver may be some real felon, but unless you know he is, why risk it? Many times the driver takes off simply because he’s looking to bait you into the chase; he’s just being an asshole, doesn’t care one wit about anybody else, or is a scared kid.
You have to be in command of the situation. You’re the adult. It’s up to you to think before you leap. I can speak with certainty about California law and I imagine many states have similar laws. California requires motorists to yield to authorized emergency vehicles using lights and sirens (21806(a) CVC). It also requires drivers of said emergency vehicles (you and me) to drive with due regard for the safety of the public (21807 CVC). In fact, the section applying to cops is just one simple sentence; you can chase, but you better be careful. Some agencies have policies and procedures even more restrictive than the state laws. Sometimes they’ve had to create restrictive policies because other cops weren’t smart enough to know when to drop a pursuit.
An infraction does not become a felony because you weren’t thinking about the ramifications. It’s your job to think of such things. Think of this: every time you turn on those pretty red and blue lights and siren, you’ve invited an attorney along for the ride. Any attorney who can walk and breathe knows not only come after you for violating state law, but they know to get a hold of your department’s policies and procedures to show just how egregious your actions were. Remember that “non-lights and siren” driving I mentioned earlier?
We all know Code 3 means lights and siren. Anything else is risking everything. When you drive like a bat out of hell with maybe only your lights on and give the occasional blip of your siren when you’re at an inter-section, you’re an idiot. You’re either code three, or not. There is no in-between. Whatever the configuration of your “Let’s hustle and get there” driving entails — stop it. Now. Don’t do it — ever.
The second your hand goes for the light bar switch and you don’t turn the siren on at the same time, you’ve invited that attorney into your world. I’ve seen it, I’ve done it and I’ve investigated the crashes be-cause of it. There’s no justifying the merits of your own stupidity. Be safe, be smart and know when to let ‘em go.