SEATTLE – Officers say spike strips are necessary in police pursuit situations but dangerous. There is new technology that might make chases safer, but departments don’t often have the funds to afford it.
Spike strips were successfully deployed by Kent police officer Diego Moreno before he was killed Sunday when he was accidentally struck by the pursuing officer’s vehicle.
Moreno’s quick actions flattened the tired of the red truck Kent police officers were pursuing after the suspects in that vehicle fired shots.
"Split-second decisions are made and life and death is in the balance and we can’t always get it how we want it to be,” said Rafael Padilla, the chief of the Kent Police Department.
Padilla says law enforcement isn’t cut and dry. Recently retired King County sheriff's Sgt. Cindi West agrees.
“I can tell you that spike strips are extremely dangerous,” West said.
She says in fast chase scenarios on city streets, “Generally you have a quick second or minute to put them out.”
She adds that responding officers constantly change direction based on radio communication of where the suspect’s vehicle may be and when to safely deploy the spike strips.
“You might have citizen cars running so you can’t throw it out. Now you know your suspect is coming and quickly, you have to get it out there, pull it in the right area so it covers the road so that the suspect hits it and then just as quickly get it out of the way so the deputy behind doesn’t run over the spike strips, too."
West says some police agencies have scaled back pursuits; Snohomish County implemented a new pursuit policy last year that has dropped chases significantly, others like the Seattle Police Department do it on a case-by-case basis.
New technology is being tested elsewhere in the country, like darts fired from police cars in Arvado, Colorado, that allow officers to track suspect vehicles using GPS. The department says it costs $5,000 to install the darts and $1,000 for each additional year.
"That’s the main objective to have something like this, to keep our officers safe and to keep the community safe,” said Jill McGranahan with the Arvado Police Department.
There’s also the “Mobile Spike” invented by a Renton man. It gives officers the ability to pull alongside a suspect’s vehicle and with the press of a button deploy the spike strip.
"We have a duty to get these bad guys off the road, but police work is dangerous and there’s a lot of dangerous criminals out there,” said West.