After a serious crash in Uxbridge led to the death of a 17-year-old man in January, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette requested from both Uxbridge and Northbridge Police Departments the policy that governs when to chase a fleeing suspect. The suspect, who died in the crash, had stolen the vehicle and was being pursued by police.
Northborough's Police Chief Mark Leahy provided to Patch Northborough's policies, which are described in a six-page document under Chapter 41.2.2./Patrol: Motor Vehicle Pursuits.
According to the document, officers do not have the right, "in any sense of duty," to apprehend dangerous law violators by railing to obey the law themselves. "As a statement, high speed pursuit is not recommended or favored by this agency."
The safety, says the document, outweighs the potential advantage of apprehending the fleeing vehicle.
Under circumstances, however, a continuous high-speed chase may be given the OK by superiors. If it is the case, it has to be done rapidly and safely. "Generally, a pursuit is authorized if the police officer has reasonable grounds to arrest the person(s) being pursued for a serious felony or any felony involving the use or threat of physical rforce, or when the vehicle is being operated in a such a manner as to intentionally endanger other operators."
"In general, I do not like pursuits at all," said Leahy. "They are inherently dangerous to all involved, but sometimes they cannot be avoided. If a person was abducted, we’d have to pursue, as we would if a vehicle was being operated so recklessly as to endanger other people on the road and must be stopped. I’ve personally dealt with both. Pursuits here are very uncommon. All of our patrol vehicles are equipped with Stop Sticks [a brand of tire deflators] to help prevent/stop pursuits."
Officers, too, should use their discretion, and weigh such factors as the nature of the offfense, the immediate threat, the time of day, traffic conditions and road conditions. Basically, the greater the violation, the greater the need to speed after the driver.
There are four important definitions as they relate to pursuit:
- Pursuit Driving: The act of driving behind the vehicle for expressed purpose of halting the vehicle.
- High Speed Pursuit: Consistently exceeding the posted speed limits or driving in a manner inconsistent with existing road, traffic and/or pedestrian conditions so that the lives and safety of any person may be threatened by the operations of the suspect vehicle while a police vehicle is driving behind it, following it or chasing it for the expressed purpose of halting said vehicle and either arresting, citing or making threshold inquiry of the operator or passenger(s)
- Major Felony: Any crime punishable by death or imprisonment in a state prison where the officer feels that the pursuit is justified
- Hazardous Violation: MV violation that includes operating under the influence, driving so as to endanger, or assault by means of a motor vehicle
If a pursuit is engaged, officers have to use all emergency lights. Also, officers cannot engage in a pursuit if a passenger or prisoner is in the car with them. Pursuit in an unmarked police vehicle is discouraged. And if it is likely that there is no present danger, a pursuit should not happen.
Interested in reading the entire Motor Vehicle Pursuit Policy? It is attached.