2020 VEHICULAR PURSUIT REPORT
Since vehicular pursuits create the potential in which officers, members of the public, and/or the suspect may be killed or seriously injured, pursuits shall only be initiated and continued in accordance with the provisions set forth by Division policy.
The decision to initiate a pursuit is a difficult one. The decision to terminate a pursuit is even more difficult. Professional judgment and common sense are the determining factors.
Incident Occurrences & Location
During calendar year 2020, Henrico Police was involved in 46 vehicle pursuits, as compared to 36 pursuits in 2019. Included in the 2020 statistics is a Police Vehicle Pursuit After-Action Report completed for a single tire deflation deployment involving a vehicle being pursued by another law enforcement agency.
Of the 46 total pursuits in 2020, officers and/or their supervisors terminated 17 (36.9%) after the pursuit was initiated. Clearly defined policies and procedures provide a checks and balance framework for protecting public safety by preventing unauthorized pursuits. The statistics compiled for this report represent data obtained from After-Action Reports submitted through the involved officer’s chain of command and forwarded to the Division’s Quality Assurance Unit for review.
In 2020, the vehicle pursuits in which Henrico Police was involved were concentrated in areas with a higher percentage of Part I Crimes. Officers assigned to Central Station initiated 15 (33%) pursuits in 2020. These pursuits were concentrated in the Rt. 1 (Brook Road) corridor, the I-95 corridor, and along the Laburnum Avenue corridor in the area of Mechanicsville Turnpike. Officers assigned to South Station engaged in 17 (37%) pursuits in the same period, primarily concentrated along the East Williamsburg Road, Nine Mile Road, and Airport Drive corridors. Officers assigned to West Station engaged in 14 (30%) pursuits. The pursuits were concentrated primarily along the I-64 corridor, more specifically where the interstate transects with Staples Mill Road, Glenside Drive, and I-295.
Time of Incident
In 2020, officers reported the time periods of midnight-6 a.m. and noon-6 p.m. as the most prevalent times for a vehicle pursuit to be initiated, accounting for a combined total of 65.22% (37% and 28.3% respectively) of reported pursuits. The time period from 6 p.m.-midnight was a close third at 26.09%.
In 2020, the average distance traveled in vehicle pursuits – from initiation to conclusion – was 3.71 miles. Compared to 2019, pursuits traveling distances of less than 1 mile and 1-2 miles were statistically insignificant. Pursuits traveling a distance of 2.1-5 miles increased 85.7%; and distances of 5.1-10 miles increased 125%. Pursuits traveling distances greater than 10 miles decreased 50% from 2019.
Vehicle pursuits are initiated utilizing five primary observational and/or informational criteria. There are also many environmental factors that contribute to the officer’s final decision to pursue a fleeing vehicle.
In 2020, data analysis revealed 84.8% of pursuits were initiated for driving behavior that was flagrantly reckless prior to the officer’s activation of emergency equipment. A vehicle operator who had attempted, or committed, a violent felony, or who was suspected of being armed and dangerous, led to a pursuit 8.7% of the time. Stolen vehicles resulted in pursuits being initiated 4.4% of the time. Six pursuits were initiated for a combination of reasons, including robbery involvement and reckless operation, stolen vehicle and reckless operation, wanted/armed vehicle operator and reckless operation. Henrico Police also assisted another law enforcement agency by deploying a tire deflation device in one pursuit incident. There were no reports of a vehicle pursuit initiation as a result of a commercial or residential burglary.
The majority (41.3%) of suspects involved in vehicle pursuits in 2020 gave no statement or did not know why they fled. Driving under the influence was the reasoning by 19.6% of suspects. Suspects also indicated they fled because they were wanted (8.7%), scared (6.5%), in possession of narcotics (4.3%), driving with a suspended or revoked license (4.3%), knew the vehicle was stolen (2.2%), or for other reasons (13%).
Pursuit Conclusions & Non-Pursuits
In 2020, there were five attempts (11%) to bring vehicle pursuits to a conclusion by deployment of a tire deflation device. Henrico officers utilized the Precision Immobilization Technique (PIT) seven times (15%). The vehicle operator voluntarily stopped the vehicle in seven incidents (15%). Seventeen vehicle pursuits were terminated by the pursuing officer or a police supervisor (37%). Ten pursuits concluded with a crash (22%), resulting in the immediate apprehension of the vehicle operator, or the pursuing officer discovering the vehicle abandoned and unoccupied.
In 2020 there were 71 instances in which officers chose not to engage a fleeing suspect as circumstances did not meet established policy criteria. The danger to the public outweighed the severity of the offense in each of these instances, therefore emergency equipment was deactivated.
All sworn Division personnel completed How Cops Can Stay Safe on the Road online training course in 2020. The course outlined safety measures for one of the most dangerous activities law enforcement officers face – driving. The Division’s Emergency Vehicle Operations Training (EVOT) team provided 80 hours of EVOT instruction to two basic police academies and four hours of training to a modified police academy.
Vehicle pursuits increased in frequency from 2019 to 2020. However, the total number of pursuits fell below the previous three-year average of 52 pursuits per year. The increase in initiated pursuits may be the result of environmental conditions. COVID-19 response dramatically reduced commuter transportation; thereby, making traffic conditions more conducive to reckless driving behavior by motorists (i.e., high vehicle speeds, improper vehicle operation), as well as flight by vehicle operators. Flagrant reckless driving by vehicle operators, prior to law enforcement interaction, continues to be the primary reason each year for officer-initiated pursuits. Reckless driving accounts for a three-year average of 77% of pursuits.
The decision to initiate or terminate a police vehicle pursuit is determined after the evaluation of many factors, such as environmental conditions, traffic conditions, the severity of the traffic offense or proceeding criminal activity, license and wanted status of the offender, and other information known at the time of the event. Comprehensive police training and information systems are paramount in the officers’ decision-making process. Proper equipment allocation, community involvement and education in vehicle pursuit policy, and annual officer training are key to ensuring a safe community for the public during pursuit events.