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By Jordan W. Charness

Peter heard that noise again: the sound of a police siren behind him. He did what everybody does in that same situation: he looked down at his speedometer to make sure that he wasn’t speeding. And he quickly tried to recall the last three or four minutes of driving to see if perhaps he had broken some other driving law. He was pretty sure that he hadn’t.

Once again, he looked in his rear-view mirror and saw that the police car had its lights flashing and siren ringing and a police officer motioning for him to pull to the side of the road. He quickly complied and the police car flew by him. Peter and his wife Mary exchanged puzzled glances and a sigh of relief when they realized that the police car was not after them but was obviously on its way to an emergency. But boy, was he going fast.

Unlike in the movies and on television, high-speed police chases don’t happen that often. Gone are the days when the police could turn on their sirens and lights and go tearing down the road chasing anyone that they felt had committed a crime.

Nowadays there are rules. Each police force and department sets up its own guidelines regarding high-speed chases and anytime there is a high-speed chase or high-speed manoeuvre, a detailed report must be filled out and examined to make sure that the increased speed was justified. If it wasn’t, the police officer could be sanctioned by the police department.

The guidelines as to when the police will engage in a high-speed chase are not published for obvious reasons. The police don’t want the bad guys to know exactly when they will be chased and when they will likely be let go.

There are, however, some basic principles that are followed by just about every police force. Any call that is received by the police requiring police intervention is graded according to its degree of urgency and severity. A bank hold-up in process with shots fired will obviously require a much more urgent and rapid police response than one of the hundreds of thousands of false alarms set off every day by faulty home alarm systems.

The more urgent the situation, the more the police have a right to get to the scene quickly while still driving safely. Sometimes it can be difficult balancing on-road safety with the danger to the lives of the people in a bank hold-up. Even when the police are allowed to go faster than normal, they must drive prudently and safely with their sirens blaring and lights flashing. Nearing the bank hold-up scene, they may decide to turn off their sirens so as not to alert the bad guys.

Other situations require a different response based on the actual circumstances. If a police officer sees someone roll through a stop sign he’s not likely to enter into a high-speed chase to arrest the perpetrator.

Before deciding whether or not to enter into any type of high-speed manoeuvre, a police officer will often be called upon to decide whether or not there was some other way of identifying and/or catching the person. He or she will evaluate whether or not there’s some other way of stopping that person and whether or not more lives will be endangered by letting the criminal flee without a high-speed chase than would be endangered by chasing after him.

As one police officer friend of mine put it, “Before entering into any type of high-speed chase I try to think what it would be like if my mother was standing on one of the corners that we would be flying by. Would she still be safe? Just how dangerous and necessary will this chase be?”

These are not easy questions to answer made even more difficult by the urgent situation a police officer may be facing at the time.

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