Are Spike Strips Killing Officers?

spike strips

This California police chase ends without injury. - ©2009 Dan Dawson

Stopping a fleeing suspect has always been a dangerous proposition.  Criminals fleeing the police pose a very real risk to citizens and officers alike.  Getting them stopped as quickly and safely as possible is the goal, though there is no “sure fire” way to accomplish it.

It used to be that officers would set a roadblock, forcing the suspect to stop or crash into the parked cruisers.  However, that was deemed a violation of the suspect’s Fourth Amendment protections.  Now officers use different methods like the PIT maneuver or tools like Stop Sticks.

Tire deflation devices have been used successfully in numerous chases.  Have they saved lives?  Probably.  But using a spike strip poses a huge hazard to the officer deploying them.

This year we have lost two LEOs who were killed while trying to deploy tire deflation devices:  Sergeant Brian Dulle of the Warren County (OH) Sheriff’s Office and Officer Bryan Hebert of the Beaumont (TX) Police Department.  In both cases, the officers were struck and killed by the fleeing vehicle.

To deploy many of the common tire deflation devices, the officer must be positioned somewhere ahead of the chase.  The officer must park his vehicle on the side of the road, exit the vehicle and then deploy the strip across the roadway in front of the suspect.

Anyone see potential officer safety problems here?

Yes, the officer can use his patrol car as a barrier, and the officer should not be right next to the road when deploying and recovering the strip.  However, the parked patrol car is not an impenetrable barrier affording the officer protection.  How many officers have we seen killed who were standing in front of their cruiser when the squad was hit from behind by a speeding car?

I don’t know what the solution is.  As long as people commit heinous crimes and flee, we will have to chase them.  Here are a few tips to consider when using spike strips:

  • Balance the need to capture the suspect against the risk posed by chasing the subject.  If the risk is too great, call it off.
  • When deploying tire deflation devices, make sure you have plenty of time to position your patrol car and retrieve the tool for deployment.  You can’t see a suspect barreling down on you while your head is in the trunk.
  • Have an avenue of escape.  A speeding vehicle will not afford much time for you to get out of the way.  If possible, have a concrete highway barrier, big oak tree or something else close by for additional protection.
  • Make sure pursuing officers know where you are set up.  The suspect is not the only flying toward you at high speed.

(Ed. note – I added a link above to a memorial for Officer Bryan Hebert at


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Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing on sites like Human Events, The Firearm Blog and Police & Security News.

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