Spike strips danger causes some law enforcement to reconsider usage

The danger and potential for death associated with the use of spike strips to end police chases have resulted in some agencies considering other options.

However, they are still being used by sheriff’s offices in Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties.

“When it’s done right it’s very effective,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Ramone Lamkin.

He added that any interaction with a person fleeing from police can be dangerous for law enforcement and the public.

Officers in Houston and Colorado died in May after using the strips to flatten a vehicle’s tires. It’s not unheard of. In 2012 the FBI put out a bulletin after a “deadly year” alerting law enforcement to the dangers and asking them to explore other options for stopping pursuits. At the time of the report in 2012, 26 law enforcement officers had been killed while using the strips.

Richmond and Aiken County sheriff’s offices rely on Stop Sticks, a long triangular strip of foam-like material with needle-like spikes embedded in foam-like material. The strip isthrown across the road in front of the fleeing suspect.

When the vehicle rolls over the strip, the foam crushes, pushing the spikes into the tires, deflating them.

Columbia County, however, uses the Stinger brand, which looks more like an accordion. After the suspect drives over the Stinger, the spike pokes holes in the tires.

The greatest difference, according to Columbia County sheriff’s Lt. Andy Shedd, is that the Stingers can be used repeatedly after replacing the spikes.

Shedd said the department goes over the do’s and don’t’s of stop spike use yearly. Officers are taught to not only move away from the area after placing the spikes in the path of the oncoming car, but to take cover behind a solid object instead of their patrol cars, because the strips can become mobile if they’re struck.

That’s the main issue, local police said of the deaths associated with spike strips. Too many officers are waiting too late to throw the spikes and getting struck or didn’t take adequate cover after placing the spikes.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Shedd said. “They can be dangerous if used improperly.”

The hardest part is getting ahead of the car and setting up in time. Not all chases allow the time or space to use the spike strips.

Richmond County Deputy Scott Usry said it takes only a few minutes after he parks his car to get out, swing the Stop Sticks across the road and get cover, but there is an art to it, he admitted as he demonstrated the “arc and swing” motion he uses to get the sticks in place quickly.

He said some people think cars hit the spikes and instantly lose control, but it isn’t quite like that.

“You’ll start losing traction and grip on the road,” he said. “It’s like driving with a flat tire.”