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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 201150 Find in a Library
Title: Lawsuit Defense: Protecting the Department From Litigation
Journal: Law and Order  Volume:51  Issue:6  Dated:June 2003  Pages:54,56,59
Author(s): Wayne Daniels; Lynnette Spratley
Date Published: June 2003
Page Count: 5
Type: Instructional Material
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This article explains the steps a police department should take in preparing to protect itself from lawsuits that involve injuries and/or deaths associated with police decisions to engage or not to engage in vehicle pursuits.
Abstract: If a violator that an officer is chasing kills someone, the officer and his/her department are likely to be sued; and if the officer does not try to stop the fleeing driver and he/she still kills someone, the officer and his/her department are likely to be sued. Grieving families tend to look for someone to blame when a family member is killed by a reckless driver. Since criminals are rarely able to pay large damage awards, governments are an easier target. In an effort to prepare for an effective defense in such lawsuits, a police department should have a well-written, specific pursuit policy as the foundation for its defense. Further, the department must produce solid documentation of the event. The best time to document an incident such as a high-speed pursuit is while it is happening. Patrol cars equipped with video cameras provide a visual record of the incident. Forgetting to pop the tab on a videocassette after recording a pursuit is a mistake. The video must be treated as important evidence, and too often video evidence is lost because someone hit the record button instead of the play button while attempting to review a tape. When writing reports on a significant incident, officers should provide information about the videotape. An officer should always review the videotape while writing his/her report, so as to ensure that what is remembered is what actually happened. Integrated video and audio is the best form of taped evidence, but if a department has no way to make either a visual or audio record of officers' actions at the time they are happening, individual officers may choose to carry a small tape recorder for the purpose of recording statements about incidents as they are happening. Regardless of the visual or audio tools used, they are only effective when the officer talks aloud about what is happening. Officer training should note this. Officer statements should include information on the characteristics of vehicle occupants, the kind of car, the tag number, driving speed, driving patterns, the time and location of the pursuit, and why the officer decided to begin the pursuit. The best defense against a lawsuit is realistic, life-like training of officers that reduces the chances of a pursuit ending in an accident. Training should encompass not only skill in pursuit driving and in decisionmaking but also in techniques of recording information related to the pursuit.
Main Term(s): Police pursuit driving
Index Term(s): Civil liability; Defense preparation; Evidence collection; Evidence preservation; Lawsuits; Legal liability; Police in-car video systems; Police policies and procedures; Video imaging
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