Responding to Calls for Service

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This directive is for internal use only and does not enlarge an employee’s civil liability in any way. The directive should not be construed as creating a higher duty of care, in an evidentiary sense, with respect to third party civil claims against employees. Violations of this directive, if proven, can only form the basis of a complaint by the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office for non-judicial administrative action in accordance with the rules and laws governing employee discipline.
DIRECTIVE TYPE: Policy SUBJECT: Responding to Calls for Service NUMBER: OPER-301.00
APPROVED BY: Sheriff Ken Christesen EFFECTIVE DATE: 3/5/2017
NMLEA STANDARDS: OPR.01.01 LAST MODIFIED: 2/14/2017 LAST REVIEW: 2/14/2017


PURPOSE:


Law enforcement officers are awarded certain privileges in order to effectively carry out their duties. Amongst these privileges is the authority to, when reasonable, operate a motor vehicle in a manner which would otherwise be considered a violation of traffic laws. Because the safety of citizens and deputies is a critical component of decision making when responding to calls, this policy establishes guidelines for the safe operation of designated Sheriff’s Office emergency vehicles while responding to calls for service.


POLICY:


It is the policy of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office to provide for safe and timely responses to calls for service based upon the nature of the call and maintain compliance with “Authorized Emergency Vehicles” (66-7-6 NMSA 1978). As information is received, call responses must be continually evaluated and adjusted as necessary. Deputies are responsible for their decisions and must be able to articulate the reasons for their actions.


DEFINITIONS:


The following definitions shall apply for the purposes of this policy:


  • Deputy – All sworn Sheriff’s Office personnel, regardless of rank, as well as reserve deputies while acting in their official capacity for the Sheriff’s Office.


  • Emergency Vehicle – All Sheriff’s Office vehicles equipped with operational emergency lights, an operational audible siren, and a means of maintaining constant radio communication.


PROCEDURE: (OPR.01.01)


Deputies responding to calls for service will operate emergency vehicles in compliance with New Mexico state statute and the guidelines set forth in this policy. Deputies must always operate vehicles with due regard for the safety of all persons and will be held accountable for the consequences of any reckless disregard for the safety of others.


Seatbelts will be worn by occupants of all Sheriff’s Office vehicles when responding to any call for service, regardless of the classification.


AUTHORIZED EMERGENCY VEHICLES [66-7-6 NMSA 1978]


New Mexico state statute authorizes law enforcement to operate a motor vehicle in a manner which would otherwise be considered a violation of traffic law under certain conditions. Deputies should be intimately familiar with this statute.


A. The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call or when in pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law or when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm, may exercise the privileges set forth in this section subject to the conditions stated. The chief of the New Mexico state police or the appropriate local agency may designate emergency vehicles and revoke the designation. When vehicles are so designated, they are authorized emergency vehicles.


B. The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may:


  1. park or stand, irrespective of the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Code [66-1-1 NMSA 1978];
  2. proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as necessary for safe operation;
  3. exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he does not endanger life or property; and
  4. disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.


C. The exemptions granted to an authorized emergency vehicle apply only when the driver of the vehicle, while in motion, sounds an audible signal by bell, siren or exhaust whistle as reasonably necessary and when the vehicle is equipped with at least one lighted lamp displaying a red light visible under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of five hundred feet to the front of the vehicle, except that an authorized emergency vehicle operated as a police vehicle need not be equipped with or display a red light visible from in front of the vehicle.


D. This section does not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons nor does it protect the driver from the consequences of his reckless disregard for the safety of others.


CALL CLASSIFICATIONS


For the purposes of regulating response procedures, calls for service are classified as routine, urgent, or emergency. The following defines each classification of the call and the appropriate response procedures.


  • Routine Call Response: Calls for service of a non-emergency nature where a quick response is not essential. Deputies will adhere to all traffic laws and drive in a safe and courteous manner.


  • Urgent Call Response: In-progress situations where personal injury or loss of property may occur if the response is unnecessarily delayed. Deputies will respond without delay, in a safe and courteous manner, and adhere to all traffic laws whenever feasible. Deputies may activate the emergency lights and siren whenever necessary to comply with statutory requirements regarding proceeding past a red or stop signal or stop sign; when exceeding the maximum speed limit; and disregarding regulations governing direction of movement or turning. This allows for the safe maneuvering through heavy traffic and controlled intersections to reduce any delay in a response.


  • Emergency Call Response: Any life threatening situation or when a person's safety is being directly jeopardized. Deputies will respond as quickly and safely as possible utilizing emergency lights and siren. Deputies will operate within the limitations set forth in NMSA 66-7-6.


RESPONSE GUIDELINES


When responding to any classification of calls for service, deputies will:


  • Remain cognizant of the safety of themselves and the general public at all times;
  • Continually evaluate the safety of their response in regards to public safety needs as call responses upgrade or downgrade in response modes.
  • Utilize both the siren and emergency lights together when either-or are activated. The use of either the emergency lights or siren alone does not qualify a vehicle as an emergency vehicle;
  • Not proceed through any steady or flashing red signal, traffic light, stop sign, or other device indicating that moving traffic must stop, without first slowing and checking traffic in all directions;
  • Pass to the left of other vehicles traveling in the same direction when possible;
  • Slow down to allow safe passage through intersections;
  • Yield to school buses stopping or stopped for the purpose of discharging or picking up students. Deputies will only proceed past a school bus when it is clearly safe to do so;
  • Not operate their vehicle at a speed or in any manner that is likely to cause loss of control;
  • Not make sudden turns across moving traffic, U-turns, or other changes of direction without ensuring that such movement can be made safely;
  • Not respond in an emergency call response in vans, command post vehicles, armored vehicles, vehicles towing a trailer, or support vehicles. Armored vehicles may proceed as an urgent call response when exigent circumstances exist and the need for immediate assistance outweighs the potential risk to the public;
  • Not use four-way emergency flashers when the vehicle is in motion as the use of such may interfere with brake lights and turn signals; and
  • Not drive head-on or the wrong direction in traffic when responding to calls. If the call for service is a pursuit and the suspect is driving the wrong direction, the deputy will, if safe to do so, parallel the suspect from the correct lane of travel, and attempt to alert head-on traffic of the suspect’s position and direction of travel within their lane. This provision does not prevent a deputy from moving into the wrong lane of traffic for a brief moment to utilize deadly force when such force is within the Sheriff’s Office Use of Force Policy. In these circumstances, the need to apply deadly force must clearly outweigh the risk created by the deputy.


Deputies assigned a patrol truck or SUV must exercise care when engaged in an emergency or urgent call response. By their design, patrol trucks and most SUVs have a higher center of gravity and are not pursuit rated. Caution must always be taken when navigating turns and high speeds.


Emergency lights and sirens may be deactivated at a reasonable distance from the scene, as determined by the responding deputy, so as to not alert subjects. When deactivation occurs, the deputy must return to a safe speed and obey all traffic control devices.


To maintain compliance with the Sheriff’s Office In-Car Video Policy, deputies will not deactivate their camera during any response where the emergency equipment is activated for any reason. This includes urgent call responses where the camera is automatically activated by intermittent use of emergency equipment.


FAILURE OF EMERGENCY EQUIPMENT


In the event the emergency equipment on a vehicle should fail to operate, the deputy must terminate the emergency or urgent response and respond accordingly. In such cases, the deputy will notify the on-duty supervisor of the equipment failure so that another unit may be assigned to respond. Under exigent circumstances, this provision may be temporarily waived by the on-duty supervisor when the need to continue the response, due to the potential for loss of life or great bodily harm, outweighs the risk of continuing without emergency equipment. Deputies authorized to continue without emergency equipment must maintain an acute level of awareness of events occurring around them at all times and are not alleviated of the responsibility to always respond with due regard for the safety of all persons and in a manner consistent with this policy.


CROSS REFERENCES:


  1. Authorized Emergency Vehicles [66-7-6 NMSA 1978].
  2. SJCSO Policy OPER-304.00 “Use of Force”
  3. SJCSO Policy OPER-330.00 “In-Car Video”