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Police chase leads to spike strip discussion

A high-speed chase earlier this month, which moved through parts of Boulder City, ended with no injuries and the occupants arrested.

But during the incident, a request was made by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to Boulder City police officers - that being the deployment of spike strips, which are designed to puncture the tires of fleeing vehicles. They were told BCPD vehicles are no longer equipped with spike strips.

The incident appeared in the BCR’s Dec. 14 police blotter, which sparked a letter to the editor from Boulder City resident Michael Mabry, asking why BCPD did not have the spike strips and what else the department may be lacking.

“Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers in vehicles, and by airship, were pursuing a felony carjacking suspect with a firearm,” BCPD’s Lt. Thomas Healing told the Review. “Boulder City Police did not take over lead in the pursuit at any time, and only assisted as follow on vehicles, while the pursuit was within the city limits of Boulder City.”

Healing went on to state that Boulder City Police vehicles do not carry spike strips.

“This is due in very large part to a recent nationwide rash of police officer deaths while deploying spike strips during pursuits, more specifically the death of Nevada Highway Patrol trooper Mica May,” he said.

According to a Las Vegas Review-Journal article, on July 27, 2021, police said Douglas Claiborne, 60, flashed a foot-long knife at a man before stealing his car.

Claiborne was spotted about 30 minutes later by the Highway Patrol in the stolen car near Interstate 15 and Speedway Boulevard, leading to a police chase along the interstate and several North Las Vegas roads.

After North Las Vegas police unsuccessfully deployed stop sticks six times, trooper May deployed a seventh set of stop sticks near the Charleston Boulevard exit. Claiborne drove around the sticks and hit May with his vehicle, the RJ reported. The 46-year-old officer and father of two was killed.

BCPD Chief Tim Shea said over the past decade, many law enforcement agencies have removed vehicle spikes from their patrol vehicles.

“The deaths and injuries resulting from suspects attempting to avoid the spikes have added to the removal trend,” Shea said. “This is coupled to emerging technology and different tactics that reduce the risks and have a greater propensity for success. In some areas, if spikes are still utilized, the deployment is strictly regulated to only those situations where there is adequate structural cover, such as a bridge abutment, for officers to deploy the system from behind. In one study, it showed that between 1998 and 2010, 20 officers were killed trying to deploy spikes. Since that study more have been added to that list.”

City Manager Taylour Tedder pointed out that there are a few newer technologies that could be used as an alternative to spike strips. The “Grappler” for example, is a bumper-mounted vehicle immobilization device that utilizes a nylon webbing to tangle the rear tire(s) of a fleeing vehicle. It is used by the Phoenix Police Department, U.S. Border Patrol, and a few other agencies.

“It seems to have had some success and is a safer alternative to spike strips,” he said.

StarChase is a vehicle-mounted GPS launcher that deploys a GPS tracking tag onto a suspect’s vehicle, Tedder said. Once the GPS tag sticks to the vehicle, it communicates positional data to the mapping platform in real time.

“Law enforcement can then plan and coordinate an informed tactical response to make a safe arrest while maintaining community and officer safety,” he added.

A 2015 New York Times article stated, “To deploy them, officers positioned ahead of a chase have to climb out of the relative safety of a car, pull the spikes from the trunk and toss them into the road. As the cars approach, they wait like fishermen to yank the spikes across at precisely the right moment so they hit the suspect’s tires but not those of the patrol cars screaming behind.”

“It’s a dangerous thing to do,” Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, a policing research group, told the NYT. “You’re taking this thing and physically throwing it out into the street. You’ve got to get to a place of safety right away, and if you don’t, the results can be tragic.”

He added that technology is fast making the dangerous spike strips obsolete.

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