A few weeks ago, I climbed in the ol’ crime cruiser about 5:45 a.m. on a Saturday, clicked on the radio, and heard the last part of an emergency message, what the DRAGNET folks used to call an APB:
“…domestic battery. He is believed headed south on Route 26 from….”
Interesting, I thought.
Then I signed on. “30 is 101.”
And I immediately got sent to the truck stop north of town. The one that sits along Route 26. See, Route 26 south puts him right on Main Street.
Damn. I hadn’t even had my breakfast yet. Saturday morning on duty breakfast has become quite the ritualized Dr Pepper and strawberry flavored, iced Pop-Tarts.
When I arrived, I asked the deputy whom I was relieving what kind of car we were looking for. He gave me the model exactly as it was passing right before my eyes.
I followed the guy for a few blocks while dispatch gave the license plate number again. . It was like watching the Lotto numbers come up outta one of those bingo machines. With each number that matched, my gut got tighter and tighter.
Bingo. It was him. Driving down the middle of my town like he hadn’t a care in the world. And by the time I ID’d the vehicle, the charges had been upgraded to domestic battery and sexual assault.
Within just a few blocks, two other officers showed up and we lit the guy up, me directly behind him as he was forced to pull over by a SUV in front of him (and didn’t THAT guy have a great story: three cop cars, lights and sirens blasting, one coming directly at him to cut him off!).
The suspect hesitated for a moment, and in that moment, I knew. I could see it in his body language and the way he looked at his rearview mirror and scoped out where the other two officers were.
Boom! Up and over the sidewalk, through the yard, and down the street. And I went with him. Over the sidewalk, through the yard, and down the street.
Twelve minutes later, myself and another deputy, and the suspect, were nearly twenty miles down the road. It ended when the suspect tried to make a U-turn in front of the other deputy (at better than 40 miles an hour), got hit by said deputy, then drove around that car to ram mine head on.
Yeah, it was exciting…hitting speeds better than my IQ (yeah, yeah, hold your jokes about slow-speed chases).
And yeah, it was scary…realizing after it was over that we’d driven that fast in the rain and thank the Gods it was early Saturday morning and damned few people were about.
But mostly? It was thoughtful. Rather, it made me thoughtful.
After all the testosterone moments, and the retellings, and the watching of the videotape and listening back to the radio traffic (including when the state trooper dispatcher called for my status literally every 30 seconds and to which I wanted to say, “Dude, I’m trying to drive. We’re headed east at better than 100, if that changes, I’ll tell you!”), I was able to slow down and take a breath and think about what had happened.
Was it dangerous? Sure as shit it was. Not so much to the public because there were exceedingly few people on the road at that hour. But certainly to the suspect and definitely to myself and the other deputy. Roughly 115/120 miles an hour, a winding road, rain off and on, wet pavement. Hell the speed alone could have killed us. Add those other things and it kept me from sleeping very well for a few days.
I’d never really thought about pursuit policies before. This is a small county, after all, that kind of thing doesn’t happen here (except that kind of thing and the other kind of thing and all kinds of things happen everywhere). Yes, my supervisor was listening to the chase and yes, had the suspect turned south and tried to go into one of our small towns, that supervisor would have called it off and yes, if I’d felt the public was more at risk I would have called it off and if the other deputy had felt it was too risky he would have called it off.
That wasn’t what got in my head. There were a thousand different ways to have called it off if it got terribly out of control. What got in my head was this: was it worth it?
Aside from the adrenaline and the excitement and the three banged up cars and the torn up yard, was the suspect, in and of himself, worth the chase?
Yes. This time.
An instant conclusion. This time.
The guy allegedly beat his fiancée up, forced her to give him a hummer, then stole her car. Yeah, he was worth that chase in those circumstances. But what if it had been during the rush hour? Would it have been worth it then? Probably not. The difference being a handful of people on the streets versus hundreds of people on the streets.
There are departments around the country that will pursue anybody for anything. There are also departments around the country that will pursue no one. I think both of those positions are bereft of common sense.
Would you forgo pursuing this guy in Nevada who was caught on tape sexually abusing a three year old? No, you’d go after him because you know there are kids in the past and kids in the future and society has said that is someone we want off the streets and locked away from my Johnny and Joannie.
Some chases have to happen. Sometimes, the cops have to hunt down a bad person. I think society – at least the part of society (writers and coppers) I deal with – is okay with that. I think society says, generally, do what you need to do.
But society also wants it done with common sense; with as much restraint as we can use; with as much care for the son or mother or grandfather who might get caught in the madness as we can possibly have.
I think society also wants us to skip the chasing bullshit. For instance, ain’t no way in hell I’m chasing the kid who was smoking a joint. Nor will I chase the woman who just dumped a $54.97 bad check at my bookstore (yeah, she really did!)
I guess there’s really no point to this whole post other than that I had a chase. Yeah, it was interesting and, in a way, fun, but it was also scary and thought-provoking. Sort of a microcosm of all of the police work I’ve discovered so far.
ps – I never did get my Dr Pepper and strawberry Pop-Tarts.