Saturday, November 18, 2017

Suggested rules for using Precision Immobilization Technique

At the Houston Chronicle, St. John Barned-Smith has a story on Houston PD's decision to use the "Precision Immobilization Technique" (PIT) - causing a fleeing suspect's car to crash by intentionally ramming the back corner of their moving vehicle - for use during car chases in that city.

The article only quotes law enforcement personnel, no accountability advocates, researchers, or others who might have suggested needed limits on the tactic. So, since this was a topic that came up years ago when your correspondent was Police Accountability Project Director at the ACLU of Texas, allow Grits to fill that void. Offhand, here are some of the bare-minimum policies needed to make this decision acceptable from a public-safety perspective:
1. PIT should not be used for pursuits resulting from traffic violations - only when pursuing alleged felons. 
2. It should require initial training and regular retraining of authorized officers, including proper locations for the maneuver. 
3. Policies should require pre-approval from supervisors before the technique is used. 
4. It should not be used at speeds above 35 mph. 
5. Officers may not ram suspect vehicles outside of the PIT parameters. 
6. Officers should be encouraged to break off chases where PIT maneuvers would endanger the public.* 
7. Ban PIT's use on motorcycles. 
8. Only allow officers to use the technique who have dashcams in their cars.
9. Track data and video on incidents where it's used and re-evaluate the policy after one year.
There are almost certainly other limitations that should be included in HPD's chase policy on the use of this technique (feel free to suggest some in the comments), but at a minimum these subjects should be addressed. There are good reasons the previous chief chose not to use this technique, and lots of things that can go wrong.

*E.g., "Research has shown that if the police refrain from chasing all offenders or terminate their pursuits, no significant increase in the number of suspects who flee would occur. ... For a discussion of the experiences of the Orlando, Florida, Police Department, see G. Alpert, R. Dunham, and M. Stroshine, Policing: Continuity and Change (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2006), 194-205."


Anonymous said...

Grits, remember that this is the Houston Chronicle you're talking about. Unless someone writes the article for them ahead of time, they do a bare bones approach due to reduced staffing (occasionally one of their reporters will go the extra mile on a side project of importance to them but that is rare). You might set up an account and comment on their articles but don't expect much from them.

As far as advanced stopping techniques, HPD has a lengthy history of having a set of formal rules that are not adhered to in practice, previous attempts to reel in chasing suspects disregarded time and time again as "evading arrest is a felony" was espoused by their spokesmen.

Anonymous said...

Those rules may be a bit too restrictive.

While most agencies have very restrictive pursuit policies these days, the Supreme Court has issued a series of increasingly lenient decisions regarding police using force to end "dangerous police pursuits" and have made it very clear that if the police shot dangerous fleeing motorists off the road, that would pass constitutional muster.

Making an overly strict PIT policy, when PIT is intended to not cause a crash or dangerous wreck, when the legal alternative is shooting them off the road, seems counterproductive.

TriggerMortis said...

HPD has been using the PIT since it's inception, they had even outfitted many of their cruisers with special front bumpers specifically for this purpose.

Anonymous said...

When is it actually necessary for police to force a suspect off the road though? Would you use a PIT to stop a car evading an Amber Alert with a suspect child inside? What about unidentified passengers?

I read a book in college about the Rhodesian bush war, and to remember a quote as best I can, "the difference between a soldier and a policeman is time. Soldiers value punctuality because in combat they never have time, time to maneuver, to seek cover, reload, time is life. But a policeman is part of a system. A suspect not caught today, if he is guilty, will be caught tomorrow..."

It seems like whenever police try to solve problems immediately, people get hurt... When do you REALLY need to stop a car, when you know the car will have to stop for fuel or fatigue? And with shooting suspects, who can we send our sons and daughters to Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria with orders not to shoot until fired upon but not use the same standard for police?

I see more dubious violence from law enforcement than I see times to be great full for it. It wasn't a policeman who stopped the Las Vegas shooter, or Southerland Springs, they shot themselves. All I see are police shooting people when they "feared for their lives" and that response is meaningless when it was taught by a department lawyer.

Hank Lamb said...

Let us all remember that HPD cannot typically follow the rules and that we will all pay for the damages to endless vehicles, as they need repair or replacement, etc., along with the many forth coming lawsuits by those injured or the families of the dead, killed in the use of such maneuvers and the unfair additional charges of murder for the simple crime of running and then cops causing deaths of innocent bystanders, etc., etc., etc.

The idea is too stupid for words. Too many mistakes can and will be made and too many people hurt, when we have tools like radios, surveillance, records on the vehicles and their owners (stolen vehicles will be sued for short periods and dumped without incident), helicopters and good old fashioned chase free police work to identify the drivers (like having a cops stop and take pictures along the way, early in a pursuit and then stop the pursuit to DECREASE, rather than increase, danger.