In Pursuit of Drivers

There was a pursuit underway. I was a fortunate passenger in the divisional van as I had no driving authority and would normally be out on foot patrol. Traffic cops were running the pursuit on the VHF car sets they had. We only had our UHF radios but there was a traffic officer somewhere relaying location updates for the car being pursued on our channel.

“It’s coming this way” said my colleague. We parked up in a quiet side street along the main road and waited. “Here it is. Here it is!” my partner shouted. Excitement filled his voice and he wasn’t alone. My heart was racing and was full of adrenalin. The “bandit car” flew past us at well over 70mph in a 30 but we didn’t turn a tyre. Why? Because it was rapidly followed by a fully liveried traffic car with everything on. Then another, and another and another and a plain unmarked car with a Kojak lamp and another traffic car, a dog van and more. It seemed to last forever. A whole daisy chain of vehicles at least 10.. probably closer to 15 .. were officially “behind” it. That’s before counting all the local pandas that were not behind it but positioning themselves in places in anticipation of the vehicle being abandoned.

The pursuit ended in a crash. Not a bad one if I recall correctly and the two lads in the car were locked up. There were many smiling traffic cops and much back patting and recounting of some of the more exciting moments of the pursuit. There was definitely a feel good factor. Stolen car recovered. Baddies locked up. Primary policing duty complete.

Cops 1:0 Baddies

It took several more years for me to find myself behind the wheel of a traffic car. A post I held for 7 years and, if not for transferring forces, would probably still be there now.

At this time we didn’t have a helicopter and we didn’t have advanced TPAC tactics. We chased. We chased until we lost them, they crashed or they abandoned the car and tried to make off on foot.

Gradually, over the years, the whole way pursuits were managed and run began to change. They have continued to change and be modified ever since. It was fairly obvious that things had to change. A local car thief was, at one point, stealing cars with one purpose in mind. To get into a chase with the police. He loved it. It was a drug to him. The cops loved it too though. We were chasing down a villain but we were having a good time doing it. We chased him all over the division and beyond. Looking back he took ridiculous risks and in many ways deserved to be dead. As the pursuits continued his risks increased. It was a very unpopular, but sensible Inspector who asked one day, “Is it definitely person A driving the car?” The replies came back “Yes Boss. Definitely him”. What came next was not what the traffic cops were expecting but was the most sensible thing to do based against the risks this young man was taking. “Ok. We know who he is. We can get him to court other ways. Call off the pursuit.”

So began the change in the way we started to deal with pursuits.

This week I undertook pursuit training. Not to sit in the driving seat again but to oversee, authorise (or not) and manage any pursuits in my area from the control room. It brought back many happy memories and I could have easily spent the whole day talking war stories! During the course we were shown a number of videos. Two in particular stood out.

The first one was footage about this incident from 2001. Burglars were pursued and eventually went the wrong way down a dual carriageway at speeds in excess of 100mph. The police officers followed them. The fleeing burglars were involved in a head on crash with an innocent motorist. The burglars car burst into flames and all 3 died. The driver of the other vehicle also lost his life. The video concluded with a spokesperson outside of a court saying the officers actions had been proportionate and had done nothing wrong.

Then there was this one from Hampshire Police. I remember this case well and observe a text book drive. The officer, PC Holden, was taken to court for dangerous driving. After a long drawn out process the matter went before a jury who concluded he had done nothing wrong. Sadly, after all the pressure and stress of the case PC Holden then left the force. The local police federation said he had been ‘prosecuted for doing his job’.

The two cases are quite stark. I was a traffic officer in 2001 and would never EVER have gone on the wrong carriageway of a dual carriageway. I would have done my best to keep with it by being on the correct one. The decision the officers made though was seen to be correct and they faced no prosecution. Yet jump forward 11yrs and how PC Holden was prosecuted and it stands to reason that the change in mindset would have those officers from 2001 in the big house for manslaughter.

The one thing that was fairly obvious from the two videos was that as time goes on the actions of the fleeing vehicle become more dangerous. Bursting a red light at 70 and getting away with instils a confidence in the mind of the driver that it was ok. They run another and another.

The driver in Hampshire increases speed, runs red lights, goes the wrong side of bollards, navigates a roundabout the wrong way and eventually bursts through a level crossing. The consequences of that could have been enormous.

The early video shows the drivers increasing speed and risks and then continuing those speeds on the wrong carriageway of a dual carriageway in the dark.

My observations of these driver’s behaviour drew me to my #DontStreamAndDrive campaign . I have watched many broadcasts by streaming drivers since I began looking at this issue in earnest. Some have been repeat offenders. Yet with each driver, they stream once and if they don’t crash then the assumption is that it must be ok. They stream again and nothing happens…  their confidence grows and increases and the risks increase with that. Eyes are off the road longer. More comments are read. Drivers ‘perform’ a little more. The phone is adjusted and the camera flipped. All the time adding more elements into the mix of driving that shouldn’t be there. Actions that put them and every other road user at risk. Yet they don’t see it because nothing has happened. Until…..

This is why #DontStreamAndDrive is so important. Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 20.41.52Many streaming drivers if presented with footage of another driver streaming would readily accept it was dangerous. Yet when they get behind the wheel of their car it’s ok. This disconnect needs to be addressed. This is why I need your help. This is why I need you to sign up to the Thunderclap and get behind the campaign. If you already have thank you. If you haven’t yet then please do. You might just save a life.

In the meantime I will continue to identify and challenge those drivers I see who are livestreaming. So oddly, although my advanced ticket has expired and I drive a desk in the control room instead of a high powered car, I am still in pursuit of drivers.

Please help me drive this message home. Join the Thunderclap, spread the word and get involved with me on April 8th.

 

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