Police Chase Law & Legal Definition


Police chase refers to pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law by a Police Officer. Even though Police chases are required they create a dangerous situation for everyone involved especially when police go to extreme lengths pursuing suspects for minor violations. There are state specific laws on pursuit policies and many states are changing their policies to limit extreme pursuits to cases where a violent felony is involved.

Example of a state statute on the subject

In Wisconsin, law requires that every law enforcement department have its own pursuit policy. The law imposes a duty on law enforcement agencies that use emergency vehicles to establish written guidelines for high-speed pursuits: Every law enforcement agency which uses authorized emergency vehicles shall provide written guidelines for its officers and employees regarding exceeding speed limits and when otherwise in pursuit of actual or suspected violators. The guidelines shall consider, among other factors, road conditions, density of population, severity of crime and necessity of pursuit by vehicle. Each law enforcement agency shall review its written guidelines by June 30 of each even-numbered year and, if considered appropriate by the law enforcement agency, shall revise those guidelines. [Wis. Stat. § 346.03(6)]

Further a police officer in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law, when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm can exercise certain privileges like

  • Stop, stand or park, irrespective of the provisions of this chapter
  • Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation;
  • Exceed the speed limit;
  • Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.

These exemptions apply only when the police vehicle gives visual signal by means of a blue light and a red light which are flashing, oscillating or rotating.

However the police vehicle can exceed the speed limit without giving audible and visual signal when

(a) If the officer is obtaining evidence of a speed violation.

(b) If the officer is responding to a call which the officer reasonably believes involves a felony in progress and the officer reasonably believes any of the following:

1. Knowledge of the officers presence may endanger the safety of a victim or other person.

2. Knowledge of the officers presence may cause the suspected violator to evade apprehension.

3. Knowledge of the officers presence may cause the suspected violator to destroy evidence of a suspected felony or may otherwise result in the loss of evidence of a suspected felony.

4. Knowledge of the officers presence may cause the suspected violator to cease the commission of a suspected felony before the officer obtains sufficient evidence to establish grounds for arrest.

An officer who decides to engage in pursuit is immune from liability for the decision under s. 893.80,(says about the claims against governmental bodies or officers, agents or employees; notice of injury; limitation of damages and suits) but may be subject to liability for negligently operating a motor vehicle during the chase. [Estate of Cavanaugh by Cavanaugh v. Andrade, 202 Wis. 2d 290, 302 (Wis. 1996)]

The law as it appears in the statute

Wis. Stat. § 346.03. Applicability of rules of the road to authorized emergency vehicles.

(1) The operator of an authorized emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call or when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law, when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm, when transporting an organ for human transplantation, or when transporting medical personnel for the purpose of performing human organ harvesting or transplantation immediately after the transportation, may exercise the privileges set forth in this section, but subject to the conditions stated in subs. (2) to (5m)

(2) The operator of an authorized emergency vehicle may:(a) Stop, stand or park, irrespective of the provisions of this chapter;(b) Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation;(c) Exceed the speed limit;(d) Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.

(3) The exemption granted the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle by sub. (2) (a) applies only when the operator of the vehicle is giving visual signal by means of at least one flashing, oscillating or rotating red light except that the visual signal given by a police vehicle may be by means of a blue light and a red light which are flashing, oscillating or rotating, except as otherwise provided in sub. (4m) The exemptions granted by sub. (2) (b), (c) and (d) apply only when the operator of the emergency vehicle is giving both such visual signal and also an audible signal by means of a siren or exhaust whistle, except as otherwise provided in sub. (4) or (4m)

(4) Except as provided in sub. (4m), a law enforcement officer operating a police vehicle shall otherwise comply with the requirements of sub. (3) relative to the giving of audible and visual signals but may exceed the speed limit without giving audible and visual signal under the following circumstances:(a) If the officer is obtaining evidence of a speed violation.(b) If the officer is responding to a call which the officer reasonably believes involves a felony in progress and the officer reasonably believes any of the following:

1. Knowledge of the officers presence may endanger the safety of a victim or other person.

2. Knowledge of the officers presence may cause the suspected violator to evade apprehension.

3. Knowledge of the officers presence may cause the suspected violator to destroy evidence of a suspected felony or may otherwise result in the loss of evidence of a suspected felony.

4. Knowledge of the officers presence may cause the suspected violator to cease the commission of a suspected felony before the officer obtains sufficient evidence to establish grounds for arrest.

(4m) A law enforcement officer operating a police vehicle that is a bicycle is not required to comply with the requirements of sub. (3) relative to the giving of audible and visual signals.

(5) The exemptions granted the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle by this section do not relieve such operator from the duty to drive or ride with due regard under the circumstances for the safety of all persons nor do they protect such operator from the consequences of his or her reckless disregard for the safety of others.

(5m) The privileges granted under this section apply to the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle under s. 340.01 (3) (dg) or (dh) only if the operator has successfully completed a safety and training course in emergency vehicle operation that is taken at a technical college under ch. 38 or that is approved by the department and only if the vehicle being operated is plainly marked, in a manner prescribed by the department, to identify it as an authorized emergency vehicle under s. 340.01 (3) (dg) or (dh)

(6) Every law enforcement agency that uses authorized emergency vehicles shall provide written guidelines for its officers and employees regarding exceeding speed limits under the circumstances specified in sub. (4) and when otherwise in pursuit of actual or suspected violators. The guidelines shall consider, among other factors, road conditions, density of population, severity of crime and necessity of pursuit by vehicle. The guidelines are not subject to requirements for rules under ch. 227 Each law enforcement agency shall review its written guidelines by June 30 of each even-numbered year and, if considered appropriate by the law enforcement agency, shall revise those guidelines.