by Kevin Bliss
A police tactical driving maneuver used at high speed has been responsible for killing 30 people and injuring hundreds of others since 2016, a Washington Post investigation reveals. PIT (precision immobilization technique), which involves a patrol car forcing a suspect's fleeing vehicle into a “controlled” spin after bumping a rear quarter panel, is considered by many an excessive use of force speeds surpass 55 mph.
The Post investigated 100 of the largest city police departments and 49 state police agencies in the U.S., examining news reports and departmental records to determine the agencies' perspectives on PITs (also called TVIs or tactical vehicle intervention) and their outcomes. It found that out of the 142 agencies replying, PITs have resulted in 30 fatalities and hundreds of injuries. Minor traffic violation stops were responsible for 18 of the fatalities. Eight PIT deaths were in pursuit of stolen vehicles, two chasing serious felony suspects and two involving drivers reported to be suicidal.
Of the 30 listed fatalities, 10 were passengers in the vehicles and four were bystanders near the point of impact.
The Post discovered that records from police departments were scarce and incomplete because the federal government did not require law enforcement agencies to keep track of PIT outcomes. Most of the agencies contacted by the Post could only offer a departmental policy on the use of the maneuver.
Arkansas State Patrol spokesman Bill Sadler stated, “The PIT ... is supposed to be a controlled maneuver based on all of the factors at the second the law enforcement officer's bumper makes contact with the vehicle.” It is said to be a safe and effective means at ending pursuit when used at speeds of 55 mph or less. At greater speeds, though, the maneuver can become dangerous to suspects in the vehicles, police in pursuit or to bystanders. It could possibly send a vehicle into a roll or propel it into an embankment or oncoming traffic.
A report prepared in 2006 by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police said that in certain circumstances a PIT could be dangerous to a driver not wearing a seat belt, those ejected from a fleeing vehicle, or those in a car knocked into a roll.
Many agencies have restrictions on PITs. Los Angeles Police — whose department has not had a death or serious injury since first using PIT in 2005 — does not permit PIT in speeds exceeding 35 mph nor toward those fleeing minor traffic citations or those not involved in serious felonies or drunk driving.
Of those polled by the Post, 74 agencies do not use the tactic at all.
Yet many agencies still use PITs without any restrictions. Georgia State Patrol spokeswoman Lieutenant Stephanie Stallings said, “When it’s utilized within policy and within state law, we feel we're doing a good job ... unfortunately, there are cases when death is a result.”
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