Arkansas State Police clarify use of vehicle pursuit policy

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A lawsuit settlement has prompted the Arkansas State Police to clarify when troopers can try to slow a fleeing vehicle by striking it with a patrol car.

Between 2016 and 2020, use of the tactic — which is intended to cause the fleeing vehicle to spin out of control — has increased every year, according to data provided by state police, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Sunday.

The tactic came under scrutiny after a July 9, 2020, incident in which state Trooper Rodney K. Dunn tried to stop Janice Nicole Harper for speeding as she drove in Pulaski County.

Denton and Zachary PLLC, the law firm representing Harper, says she was looking for a safe place to pull over on the strip of highway that was lined with concrete barriers when Dunn used the maneuver, known as precision immobilization technique or PIT, and caused Harper’s car to flip over.

State police reached a preliminary settlement with Harper on Friday.

Due to the settlement, state police clarified their use-of-force policy, instructing troopers to judge whether using the technique is “objectively reasonable,” Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler told the newspaper.

Since 2018, at least one in four pursuits has ended with a PIT maneuver, and police and officials have defended its continued use.

State police say the technique has been used more in recent years because of an increase in criminal pursuits, dangerous driving and general lawlessness.

PIT maneuvers have “no doubt saved the lives of many Arkansans,” Arkansas State Police Col. Bill Bryant testified on Nov. 10 before state lawmakers on the Game and Fish Commission and State Police Subcommittee.

While supporters of the tactic say it saves lives, the technique can also claim lives.

One person died in 2019, three died in 2020 and two have died by the end of October, Sadler said.

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