Safety Behind the Wheel
with Travis Yates
Tire deflation devices help put an end to pursuits
By Travis Yates
Product development within law enforcement has grown dramatically in the last decade. Mobile laptops, in-car digital video recorders and other tech advances have quickly become the norm in law enforcement. The recent deaths of two Palm Beach County, Fla. deputies while using tire deflation devices have brought up significant questions about the methods and technology used to stop pursuits. This is not the first time the questions have come up.
On July 31, 2007, California Highway Patrol Officer Douglas Russell was struck and killed by a car while he was attempting to deploy tire deflation devices; and on July 9, 2003, two Tennessee Deputies were both killed when they were struck deploying devices. There have also been incidents of officers being struck and killed by other officers while retrieving tire deflation devices. On January 3, 2003, Davis County Iowa Deputy Dennis McElderry became the first deputy in that agency to die in the line of duty when he was struck by another patrol car while deploying tire deflation devices. On September 12, 2005, Arkansas State Trooper Mark Carthron was killed by another trooper as he tried to retrieve tire deflation devices.
It does seem rather odd that in today’s technology-driven environment, the two predominant methods to end pursuits are a string attached to hollow tubes (tire deflation devices) and a technique that pushes one car into another (tactical vehicle intervention).
I’ve seen numerous ideas and examples of methods to enhance and improve the safety of deploying tire deflation devices. Some are currently available while others are still in the developmental stage. Regardless, the ideas are there and hopefully additional safety will follow.
Mobile Deployment Systems
Mobile Deployment Systems started three years ago and in recent months the company has piqued the interest of many agencies. Not only have they developed their own tire deflation device, but they have placed those devices on a plate underneath the police car, which can be deployed in front of a suspect. The spike plates can target a specific lane and when released can surprise the suspect, making the success rate very high.
Fort Bend County (TX) Sheriff Milton Wright knows the importance of this system.
“In Fort Bend our policy is to stop the cars as soon as possible by whatever means we need. With all 77 of our vehicles outfitted with Mobile Deployment tire deflation units, we now have the element of surprise on our side,” he said.
An important feature of this device is its unique self-decommissioning spikes that “turn off” once the suspect’s vehicle is struck. This prevents tire damage to other vehicles that may be on the road at the same time. Mobile Deployment Systems offers a five year warranty on manufacturer defects and they will replace a unit for free in the first year if used in a pursuit.
Safety Stopper has been in business for three years and they have chosen to develop their technology around a proven product, Stop Sticks. Once in front of a suspect, Stop Sticks will drop out of a container located underneath the police car. Once again, the element of surprise can be successful and the suspect vehicle is likely to strike the Stop Sticks. While officers do not have to be standing near the roadway to deploy the Sticks, Safety Stopper instructs agencies to place their vehicle behind the deployed Stop Sticks once struck by the suspect along with their emergency lights. This enables oncoming traffic to stop or slow down as they approach the area.
The Blount County Sheriffs Department (TN) has utilized Safety Stopper two times with success, and has ordered additional units to add to their fleet. Safety Stopper offers up to a four year warranty on their product and since Stop Sticks have to be purchased separately, the Stop Stick warranty applies when they are used in a pursuit as well.
Hidden Vehicle Interceptor
Ten years ago, Chinese Law Enforcement pursued a safer method to stop police pursuits and looked to the BeiJing QuanYong Manufacture and Trade Corporation to develop a tire deflation device that would be considered safe and would help prevent deaths of officers deploying devices. The Portable Remote Control Hidden Vehicle Interceptor was finalized in 2002, and with over 2000 units in use and a recent contract with the 2008 Olympic Games, there is significant potential to this technology as they prepare to launch the device in the United States.
With spike strips located in a contained unit sitting next to the road, the push of a remote controlled button up to 500 feet away can quickly deploy the spike strip in front of the suspect vehicle. Once struck, the spikes pull from the magnetic strip and stay with the tire they have punctured. Spikes can be manually replaced for additional use and the Hidden Vehicle Interceptor comes with a one year warranty on the parts.
Despite the recent tragedies and the advent of additional companies offering different tire deflation devices, the traditional devices remain very valuable to law enforcement. They have proven successful over many years and with the proper training and use, they can be used safely.
The good news is that the traditional devices are not resting on their laurels. We are seeing these companies stepping up to address the safety concerns of law enforcement. Stop Stick is leading the pack and is committing a substantial amount of resources and time to future technology, training and policy research in order to maximize the safety of law enforcement officers. Clifford Robson, part owner of Stop Stick, said, “Any improvements we can make from a safety standpoint, we want to do it.”
That attitude will benefit law enforcement well into the future and that future is indeed bright.