Inside look at PIT maneuver training & GSP chase policy
FORSYTH, Ga. — The Georgia State Patrol is investigating a deadly Peach County car chase that happened last month. A state trooper ended that high speed chase on I-75 by performing a maneuver designed to spin a suspect’s car to a stop. The suspect, 45-year-old Pamela Theobold, died in the crash.
We have an inside look at the training law enforcement takes to learn that maneuver and what factors into the decision to force a fleeing car to a stop.
Before GSP troopers can start patrolling the highways, they come to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. Law enforcement officers learn how to end high speed chases with the precision immobilization technique, commonly called the PIT maneuver.
"When it's done correctly, it produces very little damage,” said Lt. John Hutcheson with the GPSTC.
To perform a PIT maneuver, a pursuing officer touches the front of his patrol car to the rear side of a fleeing vehicle, forcing the suspect vehicle into a spin. Lt. Hutcheson trains officers how to use the PIT maneuver with a 20-hour course. Four of those hours are spent in the classroom, learning the what the law says about officers using PIT maneuvers to end a chase.
“This is an application of force,” Hutcheson said. “In some cases, it has been known to produce serious injury or death, so it has been classified as a use of deadly force in some situation."
The Georgia Department of Public Safety handbook lays out guidelines for troopers engaged in high speed pursuits. According to that policy, there is no cap on a maximum speed for GSP to perform a PIT maneuver. Instead, troopers are instructed to consider "reasonable speed” if the fleeing suspect is showing "total disregard for public safety."
“As long as they are operating within their departmental policy and using due regard, that's a big thing here in Georgia, is due regard, we should be covered in the courts eyes,” Hutcheson said.
At one time during behind the wheel training, troopers were only allowed to practice PIT maneuvers at only 35 mph.
But in the real world, Hutcheson said that speed is unrealistic.
“It's not uncommon to see a speed of over 100 mph, especially on the multi-lane interstate highways,” he said. “We don’t have a speed cap. It's just up to the discretion of the officer and where they feel comfortable with it.”
Now, troopers train performing PIT maneuvers at 55 mph to give them a realistic feel.
To pass the final exam in the course, they need to successfully pit a vehicle eight out of ten times during the final test.
While the PIT maneuver can be controversial, troopers are trained to do anything necessary to stop a chase quickly.
“In my opinion and in my professional experience, the quicker we can bring a high speed chase to an end, the safer it is for the motoring public,” Hutchenson said.