IOWA — Read enough stories about police pursuits and you’re bound to find one where the officer uses a “PIT” maneuver. Iowa police recently used one early Tuesday morning to stop a chase, but what exactly are PIT maneuvers and when are they used?
The “PIT” of “PIT maneuver” stands for “pursuit intervention technique.” Officers do this by putting the front quarter of their car into the back quarter of the car they’re chasing, and then steering into the escaping vehicle.
“The objective is to make it lose traction, spin it around, and stall the engine; that’s the objective of the maneuver. It’s not a ram, it’s not to beat them into submission, it’s to quickly and efficiently shut ’em down,” said Des Moines Police spokesman Paul Parizek.
Police say they train for hours to pull off a move that only takes a matter of seconds to complete.
“Two of the things we train the most on it seems like are driving and our mouths. It’s classroom, and a lot of it’s in the car with an instructor and in the car being evaluated, so a lot of hours, a lot of miles put on, and a lot of repetition,” said Parizek.
Like most things, however, as much as you practice, sometimes it doesn’t work.
“I’ve done it and failed, and I’ve done it and I thought I was so good I should teach it,” said Parizek.
With the PIT maneuver mostly carried out below 35 miles per hour, it makes sense that city law enforcement are the ones who usually use it. But what about state troopers who more often deal with pursuits at higher speeds? Troopers say depending on the conditions, they can lay down spike strips, back off, and let aircraft track the suspect–or, in some cases…
“There is intentional vehicle contact, which is intended to redirect or end a pursuit,” said Sgt. Nathan Ludwig of the Iowa State Patrol.
If an officer decides to use that tactic at higher speeds, Ludwig says they do so understanding it could be life-threatening and do it under the same circumstances as they would pull their sidearm.
“There are a lot of things that go into it because it is deadly force when you have intentional vehicle contact to end a pursuit or redirect a pursuit. By the time you decide to do that, you’ve weighed a lot of your options in your head already. These pursuits are not fun, you know, they look fun on TV, but when you get done, the ultimate goal is to not get anybody hurt or killed, and your second thing is to get that person apprehended,” Said Ludwig.
Depending on each department’s individual pursuit policy, there are times in which they can’t use a PIT, for example if the car has a high center of gravity and can be easily flipped.