Police pursuits risky, expensive


By Dean Narciso - The Columbus Dispatch



CCOLUMBUS, Ohio — Like cowboys with lassos trying to round up a stubborn calf, State Highway Patrol troopers tried to stop the driver of a stolen pickup truck in Cleveland this month by chasing, bumping and boxing the vehicle in with their cruisers.

Cutting off the suspect at a busy intersection, they rammed the pickup and pinned it in. They then ordered the driver out of the vehicle at gunpoint.

But the driver rammed his way out of the April 3 melee, leaving the patrol cruisers with crumpled hoods, dented doors and severed bumpers. No one was injured, but the suspect wasn’t found.

The Highway Patrol had 14 cases last year of trooper-initiated contact with fleeing suspects.

Just days before the above incident, Delaware County deputies were called to farm fields just east of the city of Delaware where a Kentucky man also had refused to stop.

As in Cleveland, several sheriff’s office cruisers were damaged after surrounding the man’s pickup in a kind of slow-motion demolition derby. Joseph Fisher, 20, was arrested and faces charges that include operating a vehicle while intoxicated and disobeying officers.

Though it might appear that cops are randomly weaponizing their vehicles to stop low-level criminals, such pursuits involve discipline, training and supervised use of force, police say, albeit with an outcome that can be costly.

An initial damage estimate for the Highway Patrol cruisers involved in the Cleveland incident is $35,000. A new, fully equipped Dodge Charger cruiser costs about $43,000, said Lt. Craig Cvetan, patrol spokesman. He called the dash-cam video “very ‘Dukes of Hazzard,’” referring to the action-comedy TV show that ran from 1979 to 1985.

The four Delaware County cruisers damaged in the March 27 chase will cost the county more than $11,000.

“Although vehicular pursuits create emotional excitement, it is imperative that common sense dictates involvement,” according to a department policy that also states that pursuits be approved by supervisors and called off when the risks and dangers outweigh the benefits of apprehension.

“Boxing is a tool, not a weapon, we sometimes use when dangerous motorists repeatedly fail to comply with orders by law enforcement,” Delaware County sheriff’s office spokesman Tracy Whited said. There have been just a few similar examples in recent years, she said.

A Pursuit Immobilization Technique, or PIT maneuver, is used when a trailing officer hits a fleeing motorist from the rear at an angle, causing the vehicle being pursued to spin out.

That’s what the troopers used in Cleveland before the driver rammed back and spun away.

“While it might look like an intentional ramming, it would be a maneuver of last resort,” said Powell Police Chief Gary Vest, whose officers rarely have been involved in chases.

Other methods such as using “stop sticks” and roadblocks also can be used.

Columbus police train more than 100 police recruits on the PIT technique annually. Of 39 pursuits by city officers last year, 18 of them involved the maneuver, two employed tire-deflation devices and one involved boxing in, said Lt. Andrew Bardar, who oversees the Police Division’s fleet. He did not have a cost for repairs that resulted.

“For the most part, I think our officers and supervisors make really good decisions,” said Columbus police Cmdr. Robert Meader, who oversees the division’s training academy.

Vest said he would likely be cautious when authorizing any pursuit.

“People’s fenders can be replaced, but lives can’t,” he said.

By Dean Narciso

The Columbus Dispatch

Reach Dean Narciso: dnarciso@dispatch.com or @DeanNarciso

Reach Dean Narciso: dnarciso@dispatch.com or @DeanNarciso

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