803 – Vehicle Pursuits
Every law enforcement officer has the duty and responsibility to enforce all laws and apprehend persons who violate these laws. Guidelines must be established that will assist in the safe and effective operation of HCSO vehicles when they are engaged in vehicle pursuits.
Vehicle Pursuit– Under Texas Transportation Code Sec. 545.421, is an active attempt by a law enforcement officer driving an authorized emergency vehicle stops or attempted to stop a suspect or violator who is operating a motor vehicle, and the suspect or violator then evades, eludes, or flees from the officer when given a visual or audible signal fails or refusing to bring the motor vehicle to a complete stop.
To engage in a motor vehicle pursuit should be made only after weighing all consequences that could be expected or anticipated to result from such actions. Weather conditions, traffic flow, time of day or night, and geographical area should be analyzed. The importance and significance of the violator’s apprehension, compared with the hazards presented by the pursuit, shall be thoroughly considered.
Authorization for pursuit is granted by the Texas Transportation Code, Section 546.001, “Permissible Conduct,” which states, in part:
The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call or when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law or when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm, may exercise the privileges set forth in this section, but subject to the conditions here stated.
The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may:
- Park or stand, irrespective of the provisions of this chapter.
- Proceed through a red or stop signal, intersection, or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operations.
- Exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he or she does not endanger life or property.
- Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.
Section 546.003: The exemptions herein granted to an authorized emergency vehicle shall apply only when such vehicle is making use of audible and visual signals at the discretion of the operator of the emergency vehicle in accordance with the policies of the HCSO.
Section 546.005: DUTY OF CARE, This Chapter does not relieve the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle from:
- The duty to operate the vehicle with appropriate regard for the safety of all persons, or
- The consequences of reckless disregard for the safety of others.
The deputy’s ability to supervise or control other motorists by the nature of existing circumstances is limited, and it is his or her duty to avoid exacerbating the danger already created by the violator.
All deputies must be cognizant of the fact that no matter what the reasons are for the pursuit, acting to protect the public safety in the best way is the key responsibility of the HCSO.
Deputies should understand pursuits may be reviewed in hindsight by the legal system. The decision to initiate a vehicle pursuit should never be an automatic reaction to a suspect vehicle’s failure to respond. Although the law provides relatively broad discretion to deputies in pursuit situations, a pursuit may be reviewed for its reasonableness in light of:
- The seriousness of the offense for which the suspect was initially wanted,
- The deputies’ judgment with regard to the consideration contained herein and their decision to continue the pursuit,
- The tactics employed by the deputies in the course of the pursuit, and
- The outcome of the pursuit.
Pursuits that result in serious injury or death will be closely examined within the criminal justice system with question toward our responsibility for the protection of life and property in relation to the outcome of the pursuit.
Each Deputy must evaluate the situation as it develops in an effort to ensure the risks and possible outcomes are reasonably related to the seriousness of the offense for which the suspect is wanted.
The HCSO recognizes pursuits represent a fluid, tactical situation during which conditions are rapidly changing, causing the deputies involved to constantly re-evaluate the following factors and take appropriate action accordingly:
- The nature and seriousness of the offenses,
- Vehicular and pedestrian traffic,
- The location of the pursuit:
- Freeway, or
- School zones,
- The time of day,
- The road and weather conditions,
- Vehicle speeds,
- The presence of occupants, other than the driver, in the suspect vehicle (e.g., innocent passengers or children),
- Known factors and conditions of the suspect’s vehicle
- The performance capabilities of the pursuit vehicle
- Knowledge of the offender’s identity and whether the suspect can be apprehended at a later time,
- The deputy’s familiarity with the area where the pursuit is occurring, and
- The availability of other HCSO resources to accomplish the arrest without the need of a vehicle pursuit.
The right of law enforcement to stop a suspicious pedestrian or motorist and to investigate suspicious behavior has been defined by State, Federal, and case law. Pursuits should only be initiated when an actual or suspected law violator exhibits the intention of avoiding a vehicular stop or arrest and then only when the deputies involved have determined from all of the circumstances of the event the reasons to initiate the pursuit outweigh the dangers involved in such activity.
HCSO Vehicles Qualified to Enter into a Vehicular Pursuit
Only marked HCSO vehicles equipped with operable emergency lights and sirens will participate in the actual pursuit of the fleeing vehicle.
If a Deputy in an unmarked vehicle without emergency lights or audible siren has probable cause to believe a criminal offense has taken place and that offense warrants immediate action, the Deputy may attempt to follow the fleeing vehicle safely until a HCSO (or authorized police agency) vehicle equipped with operable emergency lights and sirens enters into pursuit of the fleeing vehicle. Deputies are reminded that without audible and visual emergency signals in operation, they are not exempt from adhering to traffic laws when pursuing another vehicle.
If the pursuit is initiated by a motorcycle unit, the Deputy shall abandon the pursuit when a four-wheeled unit joins the pursuit, and that vehicle will become the primary unit. The motorcycle Deputy shall proceed to the termination point of the pursuit if the suspect is apprehended.
Vehicles transporting prisoners, witnesses, suspects, complainants, or other non-law-enforcement personnel will not become engaged in pursuit situations.
Transport vans or wagons, either marked or unmarked, will not become involved in pursuit situations.
Number of HCSO Units Participating
The initial pursuing vehicle (primary unit) and the units authorized to enter the pursuit by the Patrol Supervisor will be the only vehicles to pursue the fleeing vehicle from the rear, with the following exception:
The Deputy operating the primary unit may request from the Dispatcher (as approved by a patrol supervisor who has acknowledged the pursuit) additional units to join the pursuit from the rear if it appears certain the primary unit will not be sufficient to affect the arrest of the suspects safely.
The Patrol Supervisor can immediately allow additional units who are in close proximity to the primary unit to enter into the pursuit. Any further units needed for the pursuit will be decided by the Patrol Supervisor. This decision should be based on the pertinent information being broadcasted by the primary unit or the Dispatcher.
Upon hearing the broadcast that a vehicular pursuit has commenced, a Deputy in a marked vehicle within the immediate area will join the pursuit from behind, thus becoming the secondary unit. If the primary unit is a one-man unit, the secondary unit should, if feasible, become the primary radio operator during the pursuit.
Any unit responding to assist in the pursuit must advise the Dispatcher. If more than one unit responds as the secondary unit, the Dispatcher will designate the appropriate unit. The secondary unit must follow the primary unit at a distance that allows for maximum safety for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
Units following directly behind the suspect vehicle will be classified as units engaged in the pursuit.
Units responding to assist in the pursuit will be classified as responding units.
If the primary unit cannot continue in the pursuit (e.g., mechanical difficulties, etc.), the primary unit Deputy will advise over the radio he or she is dropping out of the pursuit. The secondary unit, as assigned by the Dispatcher or Patrol Supervisor, will assume the position of primary unit, and the Dispatcher will identify and acknowledge a new secondary unit. The new secondary unit should, if feasible, become the primary radio operator during the pursuit if the primary unit is a one-man unit.
The exchange between primary and secondary units must be accomplished with the utmost safety. At no other time will the secondary unit pass the primary unit during the pursuit.
All units participating in the actual pursuit of the fleeing vehicle will activate both siren and emergency lights while engaged in the pursuit and will continuously use both throughout the entire pursuit.
Deputies are reminded that the warning effect of the siren will decrease rapidly as the speed of the vehicle increases.
Deputies should also exercise extreme caution when approaching and entering an intersection, as many motorists will enter the intersection after yielding the first emergency vehicle the right of way.
Most modern vehicles come equipped with air conditioning that causes them to be driven with all windows closed. This, in conjunction with entertainment systems, cell phones, and other distractions inside the vehicle, may moderate or negate the warning effect of emergency equipment.
The Dispatcher or Patrol Supervisor may direct other units to locations where they would be of assistance if any of the following occur:
- The chase comes to a conclusion,
- The fleeing vehicle eludes the primary and secondary vehicles, or
- The occupants of the fleeing vehicle abandon the vehicle and flee by some other means.
Under no circumstances will the Dispatcher or Patrol Supervisor knowingly direct, nor will a Deputy assume, a course of travel or a location placing him or herself into the path of the oncoming pursued or pursuit vehicles except for placing spike strips in an attempt to deflate the fleeing vehicle’s tires, and then only after authorization from the Patrol Supervisor or higher authority.
Air Support Unit Resources
If the Air Support Unit responds to assist a vehicle pursuit, the unit shall:
- Identify the pursuit vehicle;
- Maintain continuous observation of the pursuit vehicle;
- Notify the Patrol Supervisor of all of the facts and circumstances of the pursuit so the Patrol Supervisor can determine whether the ground units shall maintain their pursuit:
- Ground units shall be directed by the Patrol Supervisor whether to continue the pursuit along with the Air Support Unit or to deactivate all emergency equipment and terminate their pursuit of the fleeing vehicle.
- If the order to discontinue the ground pursuit is given by the Patrol Supervisor or higher authority, the ground units shall be guided by the Air Support Unit and strive to remain out of sight of persons in the fleeing vehicle until apprehension seems likely.
- Deputies must continue to operate their vehicles prudently and cautiously in the vicinity of any active aviation surveillance.
- Continue surveillance, directing ground units as necessary to apprehend the suspect safely without active pursuit;
- Assume the communication responsibility of the primary unit; and
- Coordinate the pursuit and advise ground units and Supervisors of:
- Direction of travel and
- Conditions or potential hazards.
The practice of illuminating the suspect vehicle from the air should not generally be used unless there is a specific reason to do so in the immediate case. Normally, the presence of the aircraft should be unknown to the suspects. The goal of an aircraft-assisted situations is when the pursuit vehicles shut down their emergency equipment and back off from the pursuit, it will lead the suspect to believe the pursuit has been terminated.
NOTE: Aviation intelligence shall greatly influence a supervisor’s determination as to the continuation of a pursuit.
The primary unit shall immediately notify the Dispatcher when the fleeing motorist initiates definite evasive measures.
Due to the imminent dangers involved in vehicular pursuits, all units not directly involved in the apprehension effort will refrain from non-emergency transmissions.
The Dispatcher will refrain from dispatching other non-emergency calls over the radio channel on which the pursuit is being conducted.
The Dispatcher shall ensure the Patrol Supervisor is aware of the pursuit in his or her district as soon as a pursuit is initiated.
The Dispatcher, using his or her sound judgment (based on the number of pending calls for service and the amount of time the pursuit has been active), will determine when to have units not involved in the pursuit to switch to a designated district radio channel. This will allow for the non-involved units to continue receiving calls for service.
A Communications Division Supervisor will monitor radio channel assignment, dispatching needs, and pending calls for service to ensure radio communication resources are most effectively utilized.
The Communications Division Supervisor shall
Provide information to the Dispatcher of adjacent districts regarding the pursuit, vehicle description, and other information that may be pertinent if the pursuit crosses district boundaries; and
Notify Patrol Supervisors in the adjacent district if radio traffic will be switched to their channel or when a pursuit is nearing their district boundary.
Communications Responsibilities of Primary and Secondary Vehicles
Once the primary or secondary unit has notified the Dispatcher a pursuit situation exists, he or she will adhere to the following procedures:
While the primary unit Deputy is transmitting information over the radio, it is important his or her voice is as normal and coherent as possible. With the siren operating, a Deputy may have the tendency to shout when transmitting. Shouting causes radio transmissions to become distorted. The Deputy must attempt to remain as calm as possible.
If the primary unit is a two-deputy unit, the passenger has the responsibility of handling radio transmissions during the actual pursuit. Field Training Officers (FTOs) with a Probationary Patrol Deputy (PPD) on board will have the option of operating the radio themselves or assigning the PPD that responsibility depending upon the FTO’s confidence in the PPD’s capabilities.
If the primary unit is a one-man unit, the secondary unit, upon entering the pursuit and when feasible, shall assume the responsibility of transmitting information over the radio.
The transmitting Deputy of either the primary or secondary vehicle shall convey the following information as it becomes available:
- Unit number;
- Direction of travel;
- Known reasons for pursuit;
- Description of vehicle, occupants, license number, etc;
- Estimated rate of speed; and
- Road conditions.
The Deputy should keep the Dispatcher informed of the direction of travel and any other information deemed appropriate. The reason for the pursuit is particularly important (examples: traffic violation, robbery suspect, etc.) and must be established.
Responsibilities of the Radio Dispatcher
The Dispatcher will advise units participating in a pursuit of any known hazardous conditions in the area of the pursuit (e.g., crashes, closed streets, etc.).
Other pertinent information to be conveyed should include:
- A description of the vehicle and occupants (when known),
- Direction of travel,
- Known reasons for the pursuit, and
- The radio channel on which the pursuit is being conducted.
Units out of service during the broadcast of the vehicular pursuit will be advised of circumstances (as time allows) when returning to service.
During the vehicular pursuit, dispatch personnel will use any available information to develop and further ascertain the possible identity of the fleeing driver and occupants and attempt to discover other possible reasons why the subjects might be fleeing. Developed information may play an important part in future apprehension efforts of the subjects if an immediate apprehension effort fails.
When appropriate, a unit will be dispatched to the scene where the pursuit was initiated, or any other pertinent location, in order to identify or verify the exact circumstances of the incident.
Dispatch personnel will notify the immediate Supervisors of the primary and secondary units involved in the pursuit. Upon notification, the ranking Field Supervisor closest in proximity of the pursuit will assume overall command and will be accountable for procedure compliance and all requisite reporting matters.
Responsibilities of the Patrol Supervisor and Pursuit Review Officer
The Patrol Supervisor shall take command of the pursuit, issue orders as the situation dictates, and immediately respond to its stopping point.
The involved deputies’ Supervisor shall complete the “Harris County Sheriff’s Office Vehicle Pursuit Report” Blue Team entry when any HCSO personnel are involved in a pursuit.
The Patrol Supervisor shall notify the Pursuit Review Officer (PRO) by e-mail before the end of the shift.
If there are injuries,
- The Patrol Supervisor will notify the Emergency Dispatch Center (EDC).
- The EDC will notify the PRO.
- The Vehicular Crimes Division (VCD) will make the scene if there are life-threatening injuries.
- All employees involved in a pursuit must verbally notify their Supervisor if injuries to any parties are involved.
The Pursuit Review Officer shall conduct an annual review of all pursuit reports filed in their district and make recommendations for modification or training to the Bureau Commander. The recommendations should be received no later than March 31 of each year and cover the period of March 1 through February 28 or 29 of the year immediately preceding that date.
No firearm will be discharged from moving vehicles, or at fleeing vehicles, unless the suspect threatens the Deputy or another person with deadly force and all other reasonable means of defense have been exhausted. In these situations, a Deputy must have an articulable reason for the use of deadly force
Firing warning shots is never permissible.
The following methods of stopping fleeing vehicles will not be attempted:
- Attempting to force the fleeing vehicle from the roadway by driving alongside or in front of the fleeing vehicle,
- Attempting to slow or stop the fleeing vehicle by positioning any vehicle or object directly in front of the fleeing vehicle other than spike strips
- Roadblocks: Because of the dangers involved, the use of roadblocks to stop fleeing vehicles shall not be employed.
Termination of Pursuit
A vehicular pursuit may be terminated when:
- Any Supervisor orders the pursuit terminated;
- The Deputy knows the suspect’s identity and knows the suspect is wanted for a traffic violation, misdemeanor, or a non-violent felony;
- The distance between the primary unit and the suspect is such that, to continue the pursuit, it would place the pursuing law enforcement officers or the public in unreasonable danger;
- The primary unit loses visual contact with the suspect for an extended period of time. This is not to imply that the deputy must cease looking for the suspect, but he or she must slow the pursuit after loss of contact;
- There is a clear and unreasonable danger to the innocent victims (if any), the public, law enforcement, or the suspects – This danger may be created by or due to excessive speed, reckless driving techniques, or erratic driving by the suspect that exceeds the performance capabilities of the vehicles or the drivers; or
- The danger created by the pursuit outweighs the necessity for immediate apprehension.
The decision to attempt a forcible stop of a fleeing vehicle shall be based on careful consideration of all facts apparent to the deputies in pursuit and communicated to the Patrol Supervisor in command of the pursuit.
No forcible stop of a fleeing vehicle shall be attempted unless:
- The Patrol Supervisor, based on a totality of the circumstances known to him or her at the time, has reason to believe that the continued movement of the pursued vehicle would place others in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death; or
- The subject has committed, or is attempting to commit, a violent felony; and
- All other reasonable means of apprehension have been considered, rejected as impracticable, or tried and failed; and
- Any use of force will be in compliance with the legal constraints of Texas Penal Code Section 9.51, “Arrest and Search,” and conform to HCSO policies.
With Supervisor approval, a Deputy trained in the use of the spike system may utilize spike strips to initiate a forcible stop.
The spike system is authorized for use during the forcible stop of vehicles with four or more wheels. Spikes shall not be used to forcibly stop all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
Pursuit Intervention Technique (P.I.T.)
When approved by a Supervisor, Deputies certified by the Patrol Bureau Training section are authorized to use the Pursuit Intervention Technique. [Refer to Patrol S.O.P. 226]
When other reasonable means of apprehension are not practical or have been ineffective the P.I.T. maneuver may be used.
To perform the P.I.T. maneuver, only an authorized vehicle equipped with the reinforced bumper may be used.
The P.I.T maneuver is not authorized on a vehicle with fewer than four wheels.
Culmination of pursuits
Whenever possible, the primary unit should give the exact location where a pursuit terminates.
In all instances, the license plate number of the vehicle stopped must be provided to the dispatcher before approaching the suspect.
The primary unit may affect the arrests, and the secondary unit should advise the Dispatcher of the status (e.g., EMS request, situation under control, need assistance, etc.).
All motor vehicle pursuits will be treated as a felony traffic stop. When possible, the secondary unit shall make the arrest.
Following the arrest of the suspects and the scene being otherwise secured, other units will resume normal duties.
Outside and Inside Jurisdictional Pursuits
The EDC, with the approval of the Patrol Supervisor, shall notify outside law enforcement agencies when the HCSO is involved in a pursuit in the outside agency’s jurisdiction. The EDC shall specify whether the call is a request for assistance or a courtesy notification with no participation requested.
A Deputy may become involved in another agency’s pursuit either inside or outside the HCSO jurisdiction if a Patrol Supervisor authorizes the participation in the pursuit.
No more than two patrol vehicles shall engage in an outside agency pursuit unless otherwise authorized by a Patrol Supervisor.
The Patrol Supervisor and the primary unit shall be the only units to remain engaged in an inside jurisdictional pursuit once another agency becomes involved unless otherwise authorized by the Patrol Supervisor.
The following conditions may exist to enter an outside agency’s pursuit:
- The other agency requests assistance or
- The situation dictates the need for assistance.
Special Emphasis #1:
To some deputies, abandoning a pursuit is unthinkable and often considered a cowardly act. However, the professional, well-trained, and well-disciplined Deputy is aware the decision to abandon a pursuit may be the most intelligent and professional course of action under the circumstances. Furthermore, the decision to abandon a pursuit, based on the conditions and circumstances present, may result in saving the lives of victims, citizens, law enforcement officers, or the suspects.
Special Emphasis #2:
Exactly how a fleeing motorist could or should be apprehended is difficult to describe except that it must be done legally and safely. Listing any particular traffic regulations pursuing deputies could or should not disregard is also difficult. Likewise, one cannot set a safe, maximum pursuit speed or designate the maximum number of law enforcement vehicles to be involved in a particular pursuit.
Each pursuit is unique within itself. The pursuing Deputy, in a short period of time, will have to use his or her judgment and collect his or her total resources, including his or her training and overall experience, bearing in mind the policy, procedures, and guidelines outlined in this policy, and apply them collectively to the existing circumstances.
If the Deputy feels certain his or her pursuit is justified according to established criteria and can be performed safely, he or she should continue with the intent to apprehend the suspect, but only while exercising the maximum amount of care and caution for all concerned. The pursuing deputies shall always adhere to the commands of the Patrol Supervisor or higher authority when engaged in a pursuit.
Deputies should never be indifferent to the safety of the public, and every endeavor should be made to handle each pursuit with such care and finesse that they can rationally be justified as a help, not a hazard, to road safety.
All pursuits involving HCSO personnel or equipment shall be reviewed by the Vehicular Crimes Division (VCD) Pursuit Review Officer (PRO) to ensure adherence with department policies and state laws.
Pursuit Review Officer
- The PRO shall be selected by the Vehicular Crimes Division Commander and is responsible for reviewing ALL pursuits involving HCSO employees.
- The PRO shall evaluate each pursuit for adherence to department policies and state laws.
- The PRO will forward, in writing, his or her findings of pursuits that did not violate policy to the Patrol Support Bureau Commander.
- The PRO will forward, in writing, and present his or her findings of pursuits that have or may have violated policy to the Pursuit Review Board for additional review.
- The PRO shall conduct an annual analysis of pursuit reports, to include a review of policy and reporting procedures. This analysis shall be documented in a report detailing the findings of the analysis and forward to the Sheriff for his/her review and signature.
Vehicular Crimes Division (VCD) Commander Review
Those pursuits reviewed by the Pursuit Review Officer found not to violate policy will be reviewed by the VCD Commander for disposition. If the VCD Commander concurs with the findings of the PRO, the case will be closed.
If the VCD Commander determines additional review is required or that violations of policy and / or state law may exist, the PRO will present the pursuit to the Pursuit Review Board for additional review.
Pursuit Review Board
The board, chaired by the VCD Commander, will convene once a month.
The board will consist of the following: A Chairperson (VCD Commander), one (1) Captain, one (1) Lieutenant (assigned to a law enforcement or criminal investigations function), one (1) Field Training Officer, and one (1) Union Representative.
The PRO will present to the board all pursuits that have or may have violated policy and / or state law for their review.
If a violation exists after review, the board shall refer the matter back to the OIG for administrative disciplinary investigation in accordance with HCSO policy.
All pursuits found to have violated policy shall be referred to the Administrative Disciplinary Committee (ADC).
Personnel Early Warning System (PEWS) Entry
No pursuit shall be entered into an employee’s PEWS record until the pursuit has been reviewed by the PRO and determined to be a policy violation by the Pursuit Review Board.
Remedial or disciplinary actions regarding pursuits shall only be entered into PEWS upon an ADC decision.
Training mandated by the ADC shall be entered upon completion. Whether the training completion was successful or unsuccessful shall be noted.
In addition to initial and continued education training on pursuits, all sworn members of this agency shall receive annual training regarding this policy. This training will provide employees with the importance of vehicle safety and knowledge of requirements for initiating a pursuit for the immediate capture against the risks to the officer and public.
This training shall be documented and keep in the employees personnel file maintained at the Human Resources Division.
Patrol SOP 226 – Pursuit Intervention Technique (PIT)
This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:
April 21, 2009 October 16, 2015 July 10, 2020
July 26, 2012 May 19, 2016 February 19, 2021
August 27, 2014 August 19, 2016
September 11, 2014 February 7, 2019