Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pursuits can be fun

Who am I kidding? They ARE fun. However most departments frown on them these days because oftentimes people get hurt. Now if it's just the jerkwater who decides to run, that's no big deal in my personal opinion. Call it a case of the Karma fairy settling accounts. But sometimes it's one of the good guys, and that's bad. And sometimes it's an innocent, totally uninvolved citizen. And that's unacceptable.

I remember my first pursuit like it was yesterday. I'd been on my own out of training for two days and a couple of hours when I saw a beat-up, tinted-out ex-police Caprice going down the road.

Now other than cab companies, only two kinds of people buy ex-police cars: Geeky, unpopular high school kids who are still a step above the Columbine trench Coat Mafia, and thugs.

The first group are mostly harmless. It's just goofy, antisocial little white boys who think that if they buy an ex-police car, someone might think for a moment that they're police officers instead of nerds and they hope that someone might actually respect or fear them. Usually they trick these cars up with as many lights and do-dads as they can to make them look even more like police cars, often to the point of actually getting in trouble for impersonating real police when they start using those lights in traffic, but usually they land a fat girlfriend who treats them like crap and they gladly ditch the toy cop car for her.

The second group is the dope boys and assorted hood rats who think that if they get a car that was once used to arrest many of the people that they know, it'll give them some sort of "street cred" and also allow them to flee from the real police, because everyone knows that an untrained fool driving an ex-police car that hasn't been maintained for crap can out-drive any seasoned police officer in a newer car that's actually been taken care of.

Well it was one of the second sort that I saw on this day, and sure enough, as soon as I went to stop the driver for the window-tint violation, he stomped on the gas and took off. I hit the lights and gunned it, all excited because I had my very own first pursuit. Go, me! And I called it in on the radio, just like I'd been taught, clarifying that it was a pursuit for traffic, giving a description of the vehicle, our direction of travel, and road and traffic conditions. I was doing everything right, just like I'd been taught to do for months in the academy. My fellow recent graduates were no doubt listening, green with envy. This was a great game.

Then a voice came over the radio. It was the shift Lieutenant, ordering Dispatch to tell me to break it off and quit chasing.

WTF?! I was right on this guy! I practically had him, other than the fact that he wasn't stopping. Dispatch relayed the command to me. "Break it off."

And here's where I almost ended my police career in it's opening days. I pulled a trick that I'd heard other officers do, both on TV and even in Field Training:

"Repeat that,'re breaking up." I pretended that I couldn't hear the order to stop. Just give me a few more seconds and I know that this guy'll stop and surrender to me, or something. He'll, that car's probably chock full of guns and drugs...

But it only lasted long enough for Dispatch to repeat the command, the tone making it clear that they weren't buying it.

I immediately wised up and complied, doing it "by the book" again. I turned my lights off, and I slowed to a stop, preparing to make a U-turn and leave the area so that I wouldn't even be accidentally going in the same direction of the Caprice that was now a two blocks away and disappearing fast. I gave it one more wistful glance. I'd almost had him...

Then I saw him hit the pedestrian--an old man who was just crossing the street three blocks down. The old man flew through the air like a rag doll, his bag of groceries scattering everywhere. SHIT!!!

"Dispatch! I stopped chasing but he just hit a pedestrian! Roll EMS! Get some people over here!" This wasn't a game anymore. Now somebody was really hurt--somebody who wasn't even playing. It wasn't supposed to work like this.

Fast-forward a lifetime as I pulled up and did what I could to render aid and keep the growing crowd back. I was deep in the 'hood--the only cop or white guy for a long ways--and everyone knew and liked this guy. Not good. Several of the crowd tried to rally the rest to attack me, but I was able to exert enough command presence to convince them that my goal was to help this guy and that they needed to help me by staying back. It bought me time until the cavalry got there.

Long story short, the guy was medivac'd out, and turned out to have relatively minor injuries, despite flipping clean over the car that had hit him. Apparently as drunk as he was, he was relaxed and he bent instead of breaking. He was angry about one thing, and that was the destruction of his recently-opened 40oz. malt liquor.

But then the perjury circus started. A million witnesses surged forth to swear on their last food stamps that I'd still been in full pursuit when the man was hit, and some even claimed that I'd hit him. It always amazed me how no one could be out on the street when something goes down, but if the police is involved, hundreds of them still see "everything"--even people who arrived ten or fifteen minutes later in cars or got off the city bus. And they all want to be witnesses against the police.

Fortunately my supervisors and the investigators knew what was going on, and they managed to find one honest person of the bunch who said that he'd seen me shut my lights and siren off and pull to the curb three blocks away, well before the fleeing Caprice had hit the man. This man's honesty might well have saved my job, an act which caused his wonderful neighbors to subsequently vandalize both his house and his car. I was found to be not responsible, even though I heard a few references to my "radio trouble" as part of the counseling session that followed. But the point was driven home to me that day that chases aren't kid games like you see on TV. They're serious safety hazards to anyone around, and each has the potential to hurt or kill someone who doesn't deserve it. I still chase, but always with that incident in mind. And now I break them off myself if the risks get too heavy.

But sometimes, chase endings are pre-ordained based simply on where you're chasing. There is a section of road in my area that ends in an on-ramp to the highway, and that ramp has a fairly steep descent that conceals from view a 15-mph, nearly 90-degree curve. Any vehicle hitting that curve as any kind of speed winds up on it's roof and/or in the woods. We chase three or four cars a year into that curve and the end result is as predictable as it is inevitable. Here's one that I chased into it a while back:
The driver was a early-twenties woman from a local "better-than-you" wealthy family who'd decided that she didn't want to get a third DWI. Well needless to say, she got it anyway and went to jail for 120 days once the judge heard my testimony and saw the pictures. Sometimes there is a happy ending.

Oh--and the best part about pursuits that end in that curve? The bottom of that ramp is the state highway patrol's jurisdiction. They get to handle the crash reports and clean-up!


Johnny Law said...

Very good post. Sounds like a story that every rookie officer should hear.

The Happy Medic said...

Amazing that YOU were the one in trouble, not the dirt bag who caused all the trouble.
When will people learn?

But on the other hand...I'd love an old Mount Prospect Police car, It's got cop tires, a cop motor and it runs on regualr unleaded gasoline.

Berserk said...

Good post.

Anonymous said...

Love the post.. and for the record.. Dispatcher's love having you chase and catch the bad people just as much.. I always cringe when we hear them tell officer's to call it off over the air.