The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across a keyboard

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pedal to the Metal: High Speed Chases for Writers with Inspector Karen Lynch

Fiona - 
Today, Karen Lynch is visiting us from her home on the West Coast. Karen, would you please tell ThrillWriting about your background?

Karen - 
I was born in San Francisco and graduated from UC Berkeley in 1980. At that time the headlines read much as they have in recent history, "graduates face worse job market since Great Depression." I had no safety net, no family to rely on, and my marketable skills were minimal. I was also a feminist and had read a lot about women being recently allowed into law enforcement. Many men interviewed felt women were too weak and emotional to do the job. I was a stubborn 21 year old, quite physically strong, and I had a little chip on my shoulder. I ended up applying, going from my college Renaissance Bar serving wench job to working street patrol. 

My first years were working uniform patrol in San Francisco's downtown, the parts of town I had lived in....Chinatown, North Beach, Fisherman's Wharf, the Tenderloin, and Financial District. At 30, I was promoted to "Inspector" a rank known as "Detective" in other cities, and was sent to the investigations bureau. There I worked Sex Crimes investigations, Accident, and traffic related investigations, and finally ended my career as a Homicide Inspector.

I retired after 29 years on the force, leaving sooner than I had planned because of a bout with breast cancer.


Fiona - 
Today, we're talking about high speed chases.

Under what circumstances are police officers allowed to conduct a high speed car chase.

Karen -
When a cop is chasing a speeding vehicle, she must be constantly asking if the value of capturing the criminal/speeder is greater than the risk to life and property. 

Most departments have greatly restricted their parameters for allowable times to continue pursuit. I can only speak for my own jurisdiction, San Francisco, but it is not at all unusual for a sergeant to call off a pursuit when she feels it is simply not worth the danger to the public. 

Back in the 80's we chased anyone who ran from us, and the chase continued, often ending in the suspect hitting a parked car or something. By the time I retired, cops had reduced the number of chases they were in. They might start chasing a red light violator, but if it became dangerous to the public, they would shut down the chase. 

Generally, the only chases that continue for long periods of time now, are those with dangerous fleeing felons,or reckless drivers who are causing a hazard

Fiona -
How fast can a cop drive in a chase? And how do they acquire their skills?

Karen -
I'm not aware of any specific speed limits enforced on officers.

Obviously, the cop has to drive nearly as fast as the violator just to keep him in sight. Again, once a chase begins, a sergeant is required to monitor the action. She might come over the radio and ask the speed....if she deems it too dangerous, she may shut it down. 

In the old days, there were chases right out of the movie Bullitt.....just crazy fast and dangerous. In the end, no cop wants to hurt an innocent person, or die pursuing someone for something trivial, so things are much less wild on the streets today. 

San Francisco cops receive excellent EVOC training. (Emergency Vehicle Operations Course)
Video Quick Study (2:45) car camera of officers training.

The instructors have been highly trained in race car driving skills. We do about two weeks of training in the academy. In my day, a track was set up at Treasure Island, and we chased a "suspect" around learning counter-steering skills, Code 3 driving (Code 3 means using red lights and sirens), basic maneuvering skills. 

We all needed to learn to back and park the "wagon" a large transport van, not many had driven before. 

The most enjoyable and memorable part of the driving training was the "skid pan". One day they flooded the lot with soap flakes, and we drove around at high speeds going into skids and donuts and learning how to correct our steering. Over the years, we would return to the academy for in service training and our skills would be refreshed. By the 90's the department purchased excellent simulators that allowed us to hone our skills without having to set up a big track.

Fiona -
What if they hit a county or state line? I'm thinking Dukes of Hazard here.


Karen - 
Once a chase enters a new jurisdiction, the dispatcher notifies that town, and usually one of their officers will follow the chase until we leave their jurisdiction. If we crash and burn on their turf, then their department is now part of the mess....if we just drive through, they become a footnote, as in, Daly City Officer sos and so also joined the pursuit from X to Y.....then we entered San Bruno where Officer blah blah....all of that is part of the report, but ultimately the cops who started the whole mess are stuck with the report/arrests/clean up, etc.

Fiona - 
When you get a call for an accident, and you head in sirens blaring, what are the first steps that one takes?

Karen -
Well, as an inspector/detective we tend NOT to respond Code 3. 

We come after the first responders, and they are generally stabilizing victims, assessing if a crime is involved, taking witness statements, towing cars. We come as this is happening....not Code 3, but generally expedited driving. The inspector then takes over the scene. 

To read more about crash scene forensics go HERE


Fiona -
Okay, let's say you are in a car chase, and the runner hits a person or a person's car. What does the officer do? Continue to follow or stop and process the accident scene?

Karen -
The officer would continue the pursuit and another officer and ambulance would respond to assist the victims.

Fiona -
Have you ever done a real life chase?

Karen -

Oh yes! sadly I was in dozens of them as a patrol officer.

Most of them involved stolen cars, but there were many crimes involved in a variety of chases. 

Fiona -
I'm wondering about the physical and emotional aspect of a chase. How might an officer feel? What goes through their mind?

Karen -

A police chase is one of the most stressful, adrenaline provoking situations on officer can be in. In some ways, it's worse than an officer involved shooting, at least, in the short term, because it can go on for in some cases hours! 

We've had chases half-way across the state. The entire time, as the driver, your adrenaline is maxed out. I personally felt borderline panic at times, though some cops love the high of the excitement. 

The entire time I am praying the driver will stop before someone gets hurt. You fear your brother/sister cops will crash into each other trying to get to your assistance, and you don't want that on your shoulders. When you're 25, maybe you think it's fun and exciting. Grow up a bit, have a child or two, and a police chase is your worst nightmare.

As a passenger it is equally stressful....your life is in your partner's hands, and you sure as hell better trust his/her driving ability. The passenger is responsible for the radio....giving the ever changing locations and advising other cops the safest avenues of approach, etc. 

Fiona -
Do you think that seeing as many vehicle accidents as you have, that that too comes into play? You know exactly what can happen to you and that has to be somewhere in your mind?

Karen -

Without a doubt, we have seen the horrible damage two tons of crushed steel can do to a human....but consciously, I don't think that is going through our minds....we are in that lizard brain fight or flight thing. 

Fiona - 
Do police cars have special protections for crashes.

Karen - 
Police cars are probably less safe than the average vehicle because we have all this computer equipment, etc to be impaled on. I have lost more that a few co-workers to vehicular accidents, and annually more cops are killed in car related incidents than gun or any other means.

Fiona - 
Let's move forward to your book. This is a memoire. What aspects of your book do you think would be helpful for a writer in learning what makes a good cop?

Karen -
Good Cop, Bad Daughter gives a really clear insider's view of the making of a rookie cop. 



BUY IT NOW LINK


There are many chapters about things my friends had no idea we had to do. For instance, at one point we were all put in an army quonset hut and gassed with CS canisters. This gas makes you feel as if you will die, though it cannot in fact kill you. Before that training day arrives, the anxiety builds to such a point, some recruits quit the day before. We were also required to practice the carotid restraint (choke hold) on each other, and the instructor actually put a classmate to sleep with the hold. We all lived in fear of the instructor using us to demonstrate the hold, because one potential consequence is defecation or urinating....so there was fear of pain, coupled with humiliation. I would say the most common response I get from readers is something along the line, "I had no idea what you had to go through to be a cop." 

I would just say any reader who enjoys memoir in the tradition of "The Glass Castle" etc, or anyone interested in police training, how cops live, growing up with a bi-polar mother....any such reader will most likely enjoy GC, BD....reviewers say it is a page-turner.

Fiona - 
Thank you kindly for all you have shared, Karen. 

And thank you, ThrillWriting readers/writers. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. I moderate for SPAM so be patient about seeing your comments posted. Also, if this blog is helpful to you, I'd appreciate it if you could help spread the word by sharing. Social button conveniently below. Happy plotting.

Cheers!
Fiona