Monday, January 11, 2010

Chasing Bad Guys

MK over at Down Under On the Right Side had an article, Between the Public and the Scum , in which the topic of police chases was brought up. I threw in my 2 cents worth down in the comment section and moved on.

I had plenty of chases during my time as an officer in the Houston Police Department, each time the weight of responsibility rested squarely on my shoulders. When I was a young cop it was thrilling, one of those moments you looked forward to, a chance to have something really good to talk about with your fellow officers long after the chase was done.

Running Hot, lights and siren, the sound of tires squealing as they reached the limits of contact with the pavement, trying to drive and call the chase into the mike, keeping the bad guy’s activities focused just in case they want to go for guns; gosh but that was fun.

(Have to take a break, a locksmith job came in and priorities are important to remember.)

(It was a very nice break, actually did almost two days worth of business; more to follow)

At one time I was a training officer, one on one with probationary police officers on night shift. We were chasing a suspect in a stolen car north on Bingle as we approached Hammerly. It was my turn in the driver’s seat and the young officer was as close to petrified as I’ve seen, the bumper of our police car so close to the suspect’s car as to make it difficult to tell where one started and the other ended.

The suspect made a quick left and without missing a beat I stayed on his bumper; you could have kept a thin notebook suspended in mid air between the two cars during the entire chase. The suspect gave up at that time; he was afraid I was trying to push him off the road the way he was shaking once we got him out of the car and cuffed. It takes a certain mental toughness to work the streets; most civilized folks wouldn’t consider getting in a chase with all the risks, sure is satisfying catching the bad guys though.

The very last chase I was a part of started off as a burglary alarm call around 3am a couple of years prior to my retirement. When I arrived I saw the suspect vehicle tearing out of the parking lot of a tire and wheel warehouse. I got in behind the pick up truck and quickly found it to be reported stolen. Two suspects were in the back of the truck tossing large cardboard boxes containing chrome rims in my direction hoping to score a hit.

Speeds were within reason if we’d been up on a freeway; but we were cutting through the back side of a warehouse area and into a residential area. Stop signs and red lights meant nothing to these fools as I put out the chase and kept a safe distance behind the continued barrage of stolen rims being tossed. The suspect’s vehicle was headed toward a major intersection at about 75mph, one that would have traffic even at three in the morning.

At that time I notified the dispatcher that I was breaking off the chase for reasons of safety. I watched as they busted through the red light and narrowly missed taking out a vehicle that had no idea what was going on. I got a kick out of looking at the occupants of the stolen truck as they observed me back off to about a quarter of a mile. Perhaps they thought I was out of gas or had broken down; but for what ever reason, they were watching me more than the road as they smacked into a huge tree. They all took off on foot into the darkness leaving the stolen truck, what remained of their “booty” and as far as I know were never caught.

You want to know the real reason I backed off; about a week earlier there had been a letter come down from the chief’s office. The directive clearly explained that any and all damages incurred as a result of a police chase would be the responsibility of the officer(s), that any legal action would be directed at the officer(s) and because of this policy the City of Houston and the Houston Police Department would be able to sever any responsibility for a “dangerous chase”. Okay, now tell me the difference between a plain run of the mill chase and a dangerous chase; the answer, one in which there is litigation because of property damage, injury or loss of life.

I had figured it out, it had only taken nearly 20 years; I really wasn’t a member of the Houston Police Department. I was in fact a lone agent of the T. F. Stern Police Unit, wearing a borrowed uniform bearing a striking resemblance to one worn by the Houston Police Department. I knew that if anything “ugly” were to happen that the City and their legal staff had written themselves out of the equation; I was on my own in that regard.

Each time that stolen vehicle busted through a stop sign I was remembering the chief’s notice. Instead of seeing a vehicle with fleeing suspects I pictured a jury wondering how much I’d have to come up with to pay for damages. When I saw them headed for a major intersection at break neck speed I made sure to cut the string which tied me to their foolishness, the string which would be “officially severed” and recorded on the permanent recorded tapes there at the dispatcher’s office. I was actually laughing when the suspect vehicle cracked up; I’d gotten very lucky.

I could go on and on, like the Billy Crystal line, “Don’t get me started”; but that’s all for now. This spring will mark 18 years of retirement, not chasing bad guys in the middle of the night; Five Frank Twenty Six Oh Dee.
( Photo is not related to a car chase; just the only one I could find of yours truly in a patrol car on night shift. The suspect sitting in back had been burglarizing Rico’s Chicken and was caught inside; no chase, not even on foot.)

Lastly, you may have noticed an “issue” with the comment section. For several years I’d been using Haloscan for comments and trackbacks. I got an email from the Haloscan folks explaining how there would no longer be any free services, that to continue I’d need to “upgrade”, at a price, or all comments would be lost. My temporary solution will be to have you go to Facebook, where I cross post articles; leave your comments there until I figure out how to get Blogspot’s comment format working again. The only other way would be for you to leave your comments in the form of email which I could then add as an “edit” function to the bottom of each article for all to see.


T. F. Stern said...

I got the comment section working; now all I need to do is get the rest of the format to look right. I never claimed to understand how all these template changes worked....

BTW. A big thank you to all those who did their best to assist, David at Third World County tops the list, followed closely by Jahn and Tanya. Thanks for working with a not so geeky blogger.

The probligo said...

Relative to "chasing the bad guys" there is a similar debate going round these parts as well.

There have been a number of instances (three this past few months) where people have been killed or severely injured as a result of crashes. All occurred after the police had "called off".

The result has been more pursuits being called off earlier.

There is now being debated the possibility of heavier sentences for failing to stop, and the likelihood of more manslaughter and similar charges connected with failing to stop.

Worst that comes to mind was a guy (17) driving a WRX Subaru at 120+ on a major suburban link road (limit 50). He took out 3 members of a family on a pedestrian crossing.