Human Reaction Under Stress
By Officer David Pienta
I remember the first time I had someone run from me on a traffic stop. I was still a rookie. I was partnered up with a full-time deputy, waiting for my FTO training to begin formally. It was a clear night. My partner was driving.
The department’s chase policy was not to chase unless the driver had or was committing a forcible felony.
We did what we would always do, use our overhead lights to indicate a stop. However, this stretch of road was not conducive to traffic stops, as there were limited spots a vehicle could pull over. This time, rather than pull onto a side street, the car driven by the suspect pulled perpendicular across the side road. This blocked the side street and made us stop nearly in the middle of the 2-lane highway.
The stop was called out on the radio per protocol. As my partner walked up to the driver side of the car, he informed he was going to ask the driver to reposition his car to get us off the road, and he wanted me to move our squad car behind the suspect’s car. I was making my way behind our car when the suspect took off from the stop.
I felt like I was running in slow motion trying to get back to my passenger door and get in the car. I got in, and my partner hit the gas. Before I knew it, we were nearing speeds of 100 MPH trying to catch up to the suspect, lights on. Being a rookie, with my adrenaline not as high as my partner’s, I knew we were not allowed to chase by policy. However, my partner had taken the radio mic from me to prevent me from calling it out.
I used my handheld mic and called out the pursuit, the description, direction of travel and speed. The shift supervisor called off the pursuit, much to the displeasure of my partner. He pulled over, beat the steering wheel while cussing up a storm. He stopped the car, kicked the tires a few times. My partner then told me he needed me to drive because he was too upset that the car and driver got away.
We must remember this job is not personal. We must take our emotions out of our job. It was not my partner or me as a person that caused this guy to flee; it was the uniform and the patrol car. It could have been anyone in uniform driving it, and the results would have been the same. We can not let our emotions dictate our response.
We must remain in control to make sound and safe decisions that will result in us going home the same way we came to work. Find ways to take the stress out of your life through hobbies or exercise. We cannot win every incident we face. Just remember, as a wise instructor once taught me, bad money keeps turning back up. I promise you this was not the first time this suspect fled, and it will not be his last. The suspect will eventually get caught. Make sure you stay in both the policy and the law. But also take the time to make sure the risk is worth the reward.