Danger ahead: Officers weigh many factors in high-speed chases


Staff Writer

IRON MOUNTAIN – Officials from area law enforcement agencies say they are reluctant to engage in high-speed chases – due to how dangerous they can be – but in reality they sometimes occur.

Area law enforcement agencies have been involved in at least three high-speed chases in the past year.

Marinette County Sheriff Jerry Sauve said his department tries to avoid getting into them.

“They are inherently dangerous and we don’t like to have them,” he said.

Trooper Geno Basanese, community service trooper for the Michigan State Police post in Iron Mountain, agreed.

“Vehicle pursuit situations are hazardous and the high speed often associated with pursuits increases the potential for becoming involved in or causing serious crashes,” he said. “We make every reasonable effort to apprehend the drivers of fleeing vehicles. We also weigh the hazard presented by the violator against that created by a vehicle pursuit.”

Dickinson County Sheriff Scott Celello said each situation involving pursuits is unique, and no single policy can address every circumstance.

“However, we do have a policy and procedures to provide general guidelines to aid in decision making. If a pursuit is initiated there are several variables the officer must consider, such as the reason for the pursuit, possibility of apprehension, weather and road conditions, location of the pursuit (residential area), vehicular and pedestrian traffic along with the time of day or night,” Sheriff Celello said. “Once a pursuit is initiated, the officer is to notify dispatch and provide them with as much information about the pursuit as possible, such as direction of travel and vehicle description.”

Sauve said, with the potential for a high speed chase, there are factors to be taken into consideration.

“Again, consideration of what was I attempting to stop this person for? If it’s an armed robbery and now we see the vehicle and they take off, that ups the ante compared to speeding where we have the license plate and know the driver,” said Sauve.

Other factors police keep in mind in determining whether to pursue a vehicle or not include: the nature of the violation (what law did the driver violate?); presence of pedestrians and traffic conditions; population density in the area; roads and weather conditions; familiarity with the area; patrol car capability and condition including the presence or absence of audio and visual warning devices; familiarity with the offender; and the presence of non-department personnel in the patrol vehicle.

“To call off a chase is a challenge. To me, it’s always gone back to what do you want them for anyways?” Sauve said.

Celello said when an officer reasonably believes the risk to the public or themselves outweighs the benefit of apprehension, that is when it’s too dangerous to pursue a vehicle.

“An officer can terminate the pursuit at any time if they feel it’s necessary or if ordered by a supervisor to discontinue,” he said.

Celello added that each pursuit is unique and ultimately the decision to terminate is left to the pursuing officer after evaluating several factors as to the safety of the public, officer and offender.

“Stop sticks” can be deployed under certain circumstances to deflate the tires to slow or stop the suspect vehicle, said Sauve.

“Ours are on a rocker system. It’s a couple feet wide with a rope on one end. The officer takes it out of the case and throws it across the road,” Sauve said. “It can cover a two-lane road. They radio ahead that they are going to deploy, so a pursuing unit knows. They deploy very effectively, but it is not as easy as seen on TV.”

Sauve added that his department also evaluates high-speed chases on a case by case basis.

“We don’t like to do them. Anytime we don’t have to, if we can break it off, we will consider doing that,” he said.

In Michigan, officers receive numerous hours of pursuit/precision driving techniques while attending the police academy and annual in-service training once hired by a department.

In Wisconsin, officers are required to complete mandatory training through an Emergency Vehicle Operation Course (EVOC) every other year.

Lisa M. Reed’s e-mail address is lreed@ironmountaindailynews.com.