The tragic death of Bluffton, OH, Police Officer Dominic Francis—who was laying out spikes in a roadway when he was struck by a suspect driving a stolen vehicle involved in a police pursuit—should commence conversations about training to safely deploy tire-deflation devices. - (Photo: Bluffton PD/ Facebook)

The tragic death of Bluffton, OH, Police Officer Dominic Francis—who was laying out spikes in a roadway when he was struck by a suspect driving a stolen vehicle involved in a police pursuit—should commence conversations about training to safely deploy tire-deflation devices.

(Photo: Bluffton PD/ Facebook)

Late last week, we reported on the tragic death of Bluffton (OH) Police Officer Dominic Francis, who was laying out spikes in a roadway when he was struck by a suspect driving a stolen Toyota Prius at speeds exceeding 130 miles per hour and leading officers from multiple law enforcement agencies in a pursuit.

Officer Francis —who leaves behind a wife and two children—had served in law enforcement for 19 years. Francis' final nine years was with Bluffton PD. He served three years as a part-time employee followed by six as a full-time officer and he had been named officer of the year for the department in 2018.

This week's column is dedicated to the memory of Officer Dominic Francis and to all the officers who have been killed while deploying tire-deflation devices in the path of an oncoming vehicle.

Dangerous Duty

Deploying tire-deflation devices—commonly knowns as "spike strips"—is among the most hazardous activities that law enforcement engages in during a vehicle pursuit.

While they can be an effective tool to stop a fleeing vehicle, their use is not without risk to officers deploying them—many officers have been injured and killed while doing so.

Training for the use of these tools should be continual and ongoing but in too many cases, officers receive initial instruction and little else in terms of follow-up. Some officers receive no training at all other than an introductory video. Shockingly, some policies have far more thought given to the care, maintenance, and storage of the devices than their actual use on the street.

Fixing that problem is a matter for organizations to handle at the leadership level—here are three basic rules to consider while in the meantime.

1. Communication between the pursuing patrol vehicles and those positioned up ahead in the path of travel is critical. Coordinate with the use of mile-markers, exit numbers, intersecting streets, and known landmarks to help the officers deploying the devices judge the ETA based on closing speed—and conversely, let the pursuing personnel know where the strips will be laid.

2. The officer(s) deploying the tire deflation devices should establish—whenever possible—a good line of sight to the approaching pursuit, avoiding the outbound element of a blind curve or the back of a hillcrest. In addition, the officer(s) deploying the devices must be well behind solid cover. An excellent location is at the exit-side of an overpass, where the officer(s) is well behind a massive berm of concrete and earth. Look for other shelter such as Jersey walls, steel guardrails, and bridge abutments.

3. When in doubt, don't set it out. If the above officer safety criteria cannot be met—or if there is present any danger that a vehicle disabled by spike strips might collide with oncoming traffic or crash into nearby areas in which people may be present—keep the spikes in the trunk and look for another way to end the chase.

End of the Road

Since they were first introduced in the mid-1980s, countless vehicle pursuits have been safely and successfully ended with the use of tire-deflation devices. However, these tools have also caused injury and death to officers and innocents alike.

Suspects fleeing police in a speeding vehicle have already—by simply choosing to flee in the first place—said loud and clear that they have little (or no) regard for the safety of others.

Consequently, it's imperative that policies, procedures, and training for the use of these devices be carefully considered.

Author

Doug Wyllie
Doug Wyllie

Contributing Editor

Doug Wyllie has authored thousands of feature articles, opinion columns, news reports, and tactical tips with the goal of ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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Doug Wyllie has authored thousands of feature articles, opinion columns, news reports, and tactical tips with the goal of ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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