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'It is not a free-for-all out there': North Texas police chase policies vary by department

North Texas has seen a recent spike in police chases. At least ten have made the news in November alone.

DALLAS — They are glorified and dramatized in movies.

But in real life, police pursuits have no scripted endings.

And those who’ve been in a chase often look back on them as difficult and sometimes dangerous.

“They are initially very exciting when you are a younger officer, but with more experience and training you take on much more -- you might say -- a technical mindset,” said Doug Deaton, who spent two and a half decades as a police officer and retired as a lieutenant in the Plano Police Department.

In November alone, at least ten police chases have made the news in North Texas.

Some have been deadly.

Grand Prairie police officer Brandon Tsai

On Nov. 14, 33-year-old Grand Prairie police officer Brandon Tsai died while pursuing a suspect with a fake paper tag.

On Nov. 19, a 16-year-old died when the vehicle he was in crashed as Garland police pursued it into Dallas.

There is no blanket policy that police departments in North Texas or beyond follow when it comes to determining what warrants a chase.

“Across the United States I would say there is not really a standard policy on pursuits. Every department has a different policy based on what they perceive as best practices,” said Alex del Carmen, associate dean and professor at Tarleton State University’s School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Public Administration.

Policies vary from department to department, but del Carmen said there are certain commonalities among them.

The crime a suspect is accused of is only part of the equation. Public safety is the rest of it.

Traffic, time of day and road conditions are all things police take into consideration, del Carmen said.

And during a chase, those factors can change.

“Many of those factors have to be played out in that officer’s head in a matter of seconds,” said del Carmen.

Deaton said officers are constantly doing a “risk versus reward” assessment even as the pursuit is underway.

“As traffic conditions change, as pattern changes, as danger increases or decreases, decisions have to be made on the fly,” he said. “A pursuit on a perfectly safe roadway at 4 a.m. will have a completely different set of dynamic factors than a pursuit on that same roadway at 6:30 p.m.”

He’s seen policies evolve.

The Richardson Police Department updated its policy in July.

“It is not a free for all out there, contrary to sometimes public opinion,” Deaton said. “I had about 26 years in law enforcement and a couple pursuits in the very earliest portions of my career today would be out of policy now. The public needs to know that pursuit policies by and large especially in the DFW area are much more restrictive than at any time in the history of policing.”

Deaton said some departments forbid pursuits for property crime, but he believes there are some property crimes that could be worth it.

“People who steal guns from gun shops would not be chased under such a policy,” he said. “But those crimes have a very serious effect on the public at large and on society and there are many citizens who do not support those policies.”

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