A high-speed chase sent Frankfort, Indiana, police cars flying down Lafayette streets Saturday night as they pursued a wanted felon.
After crashing into the back of a car of a couple stopped at a busy downtown street, Shawn Lowery climbed onto the roof of the Long Center for Performing Arts and ran across rooftops until he was found in the attic of a boutique on the corner of 6th and Columbia streets.
The pursuit commenced after Lowery was pulled over in a routine traffic stop. When police realized Lowery was wanted on warrants for failing to register as a sex offender, Lowery stepped on the gas.
All of this begs the question: When is it appropriate for police to pursue a vehicle through a city?
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” LPD Sgt. Ian O’Shields said this week. “(We engage in a pursuit) only when there’s an immediate threat to human life.”
Lafayette police assisted the pursuit only by blocking off roads, but they could have joined the pursuit if it met their criteria.
LPD, as well as West Lafayette and Purdue police departments, follow strict protocols for when and how to initiate high-speed chases.
Both LPD and WLPD protocols outline safety considerations for officers initiating a pursuit.
PUPD Capt. SOng Kang said there needs to be a “significant reason why” officers will pursue, but he did not provide a copy of PUPD protocol by publication.
LPD protocol says officers may initiate a pursuit only when there is an immediate threat to human life. The threat created by the suspect must be greater than that of the pursuit itself. If the suspect can be identified with certainty, and can be apprehended at a later date, officers will not pursue. Officers should also consider the location and density of the environment. For example, police may be more likely to pursue in a rural area than downtown.
Along with the consideration of threat to innocent civilians, WLPD officers will pursue only for “suspected felony offenses” and will not engage in any pursuit with a two-wheeled vehicle “unless the offense committed by the operator constitutes deadly force,” according to protocol.
WLPD protocol also lays out standards for use of force, which include ramming, the “precision immobilization technique,” and tire deflation devices.
WLPD officers must receive approval from a supervisor for using any force, which they refer to as “pursuit intervention.” Police will consider road conditions, circumstances and general safety before approving any such action.
When officers hit the back corner of a vehicle to spin it off the road, it’s known as the PIT maneuver. The PIT should be used only by trained and authorized officers, protocol says, and should not be used if the danger presented is greater than the threat presented by the suspect.
Officers can ram a suspect’s vehicle only if all other methods have been exhausted, or if the suspect is “driving in a life-endangering manner or using the vehicle as a weapon.”
Tire deflation devices can be used as long as the vehicle is not transporting hazardous materials or would pose an “unusual hazard.”
Because roadblocks are so dangerous if the suspect doesn’t stop, WLPD protocol says, they should only be used under “extraordinary” conditions where there is a need to stop the suspect far outweighs the risk of injury or death to the vehicle occupants, police or the public.
LPD’s use-of-force tactics are laid out with much less detail than WLPD’s.
Any contact to the pursued vehicle by an officer is prohibited unless the officer is justified in using deadly force, or if the risk of harm to the public is greater than the risk to those involved in the forced stop.
LPD protocol doesn’t lay out specific rules for different techniques but does include that officers are prohibited from passing a pursued vehicle or pursuing on parallel streets unless authorized by a supervisor.
If a pursuit from another agency finds its way into Greater Lafayette, as it did Saturday, police may engage only when assistance is requested by that agency.
“We don’t just jump on board a pursuit,” O’Shields said.
Both WLPD and LPD protocols state police will usually not actively pursue vehicles coming from other jurisdictions but will only assist the other agency in blocking off roads and other tactical maneuvers.
Once a pursuit leaves their jurisdiction, both WLPD and LPD will disregard the pursuit unless otherwise directed by a supervisor. If the original pursuing agency terminates the pursuit but the vehicle is still in the area, WLPD officers can initiate their own pursuit at any time. LPD officers would need permission from a supervisor to do so.
While police don’t have to aid in pursuits that come through their jurisdiction, O’Shields said they cannot tell other agencies whether to stop their own pursuits.
“That’s definitely a conversation we can have,” he said. “We can try (to ask them to stop). But we can’t force them to do anything.”
Both agencies will end a pursuit when the danger to the public becomes too great, when the vehicle gains too much distance from police or its location is no longer known, or when the suspect has been definitively identified and can be apprehended at another time.