A dangerous police tactic

I was not aware that the police learn a technique known as the precision immobilization technique (PIT) by which they can cause another car to go out of control and even flip over. You would think that such a dangerous maneuver would be used only in extreme situations when it is essential that the car be stopped and there is no other alternative. But we see in this case an Arkansas state trooper doing this to a car that it had targeted for speeding and which had slowed down down and turned on its flashers when it saw the police lights, a sign that the car driver was planning to stop and was looking for a safe place to do so. But after waiting less than two minutes, the police did the PIT maneuver and as a result, the car flipped over. It turned out that the driver Nicole Harper was pregnant.


PIT maneuvers can be tremendously dangerous; most agencies restrict them depending on the circumstances, and officers are supposed to weigh whether it’s worth the risk. 

At least 30 people have been killed during PIT maneuvers nationwide since 2016, and hundreds of others have been injured, according to a Washington Post investigation last August. Eighteen of those deaths came after an officer attempted to stop someone for a minor traffic violation, including speeding. [My italics-MS]

In Harper’s case, she was severely injured as a result of the maneuver, according to her lawsuit. She was covered in “hellacious” bruises, Norwood said. And, at two months pregnant, she feared the worst. After rushing to the emergency room, Harper went to bed the evening of the accident convinced that her first child was dead, though an OB-GYN picked up a heartbeat the following day. The child was later born healthy. 

“If done properly, it’s a really good maneuver, and it’s a safe maneuver,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina. “But unfortunately we see too many times PITs being done at high speeds, in the wrong environment, and on wrong vehicles.”

In Harper’s case, she seemed to do everything right, making the PIT used against her “a really outrageous example,” Alpert said. 

“If you look at the video, there are barriers on both sides of the road with a reduced shoulder,” Norwood told VICE News. “There’s no exit or widening of the narrowed shoulder from the time he starts his lights until the time she’s upside down.” 

Norwood noted that even Arkansas’ “Driver’s License Study Guide” recommends that drivers activate their “turn signal or emergency flashers to indicate to the officer that you are seeking a safe place to stop.” 

It seems like police think that anything other than immediate groveling compliance even in the aftermath of minor offenses is an act of lese majeste that justifies the use of any force at their disposal. So someone running away even after some non-violent incident is shot. Someone who is mentally disturbed and does not immediately respond to a command is shot. And a driver who does not immediately stop has their car flipped over.

Harper is suing the police but because of the doctrine of qualified immunity, it will be tough getting justice.


  1. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    It seems like police think that anything other than immediate groveling compliance even in the aftermath of minor offenses is an act of lese majeste that justifies the use of any force at their disposal.

    No, that’s a definite conclusion. I’ve spoken to some cops on the cop subreddit back the day (before I deleted my reddit account), and that’s basically what they said was standard operating procedure. Escalate violence as much as is necessary to ensure compliance is the basic principle.

    Worse, they can do that legally. They don’t even need to resort to qualified immunity in most cases. Qualified immunity is for wrongful actions. Most needless escalations of force don’t even qualify as wrongful. The courts give such wide discretion to police that most of these ridiculous abuses of the law aren’t even wrongful, and qualified immunity doesn’t even come into it.

    We need to get rid of qualified immunity. We also need to rewrite the book on police use of force and escalation of force.

  2. says

    She didn’t pull over immediately because it was a major highway with high speed traffic. If she had pulled over and killed the engine, the cop would have had to stand next to her window, exposed to high speed traffic where he might be hit and killed.

    She was thinking about *his* safety, trying to find a safe place to pull over. He didn’t care about her safety in the least.

    If the future, perhaps drivers should pull over immediately if that’s what the cops want. And the cops can stand at the drivers’ window with vehicles passing centimetres away, travelling at 100kmh or more.

  3. Matt G says

    Just two days ago, I was driving on the Taconic Parkway (NYS) when I came across a woman who had lost something out the window of her car. She stopped her car to get it ON THE OFF RAMP! Not the shoulder of the off ramp (which had plenty of space), but the middle of the off ramp itself. Unbelievable.

    When I was a kid growing up in Rochester, NY, there was an incident in which a kid hit a cop who had pulled someone over (early eighties). I remember that the impact knocked the cop out of his boots. It may have been this incident that prompted the rule that you have to move out of lanes near stopped official vehicles. Cops, of all people, should recognize the danger of pulling over where there is no room. The Taconic itself has miles and miles where there is no shoulder whatsoever.

  4. Marja Erwin says

    It looks like the police are trained to:

    (a) regard non-compliance as violence, justifying the use of incapacitating pain-compliance weapons until people comply, which may not be possible after being hit by incapacitating pain-compliance weapons, regardless of whether there are any police orders, or if there are mutually-inconsistent police orders, making it impossible to comply.

    And the rest of us are supposed to believe:

    (b) this is not a police state.

    And the police are also trained:

    (c) to get in ahead of paramedics, to use dangerous weapons such as blinkers and strobe flashlights as a matter of course for safety, to treat medical emergencies as threats, to treat neurodivergence as suspicious behavior, etc.

  5. jrkrideau says

    I have never heard of this in Canada. It sounds totally insane.

    Last police pursuit I remember, the provincial police called ahead to the next office and had spikes deployed. Netted a fairly large amount of drugs and some illegal fire arms.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    US police use of force is out of control (if it ever was in control).

    Risk assessment and root cause analysis is a big part of my job (chemical engineer). Even a 30 second consideration of the risks/benefits of doing something like this would rapidly conclude that it’s not something you should EVER do. What it looks like is the fevered imaginings of a teenager who’s played too much GTA. The concept that an actual ADULT would ever consent to be trained to do this, much less actually do it in real life, boggles the mind. And to do it on a public road to a car that might, possibly contain a person who’s guilty of a minor traffic offence (and how many other people?) sounds completely insane.

    Worse, the fact that these nutters are allowed to go on doing it without consequence even when it goes wrong passes the point of insanity and reaches a point where analogies and words just… run out.

    If I ran the world, I’d run voluntary police training courses in this technique, and canvas officers to see who was interested. Anyone who signed up would be immediately transferred to an elite unit where they’d be incommunicado to their former colleagues. That unit would be housed in a mental hospital or possibly a prison somewhere, and the applicants, at the end of their “training”, would be barred from holding any further public-facing roles for life and banned from coming within 10 metres of a firearm.

  7. lanir says

    I was once pulled over for speeding in a small town in the midwest. I was on a highway that was built a lot like the road in the video but instead of retaining walls there was just a drop of about 6 or 8 feet to a drainage ditch. I slowed down and used a turn signal, then drove another minute or so to stop on a side road. It was night and the side road would be less busy. The police officer was very irate about it and yelled at me. He told me I was just supposed to stop right away wherever I was. I already knew once I was stopped that the officer would never let me move my car, even just to creep forward a little and maneuver my car and the officer further out of traffic.

    I sometimes feel like we need to treat police like dangerous idiots or children who are so focused on controlling something that they lose sight of everything else. It feels like they have unusually low situational awareness for actual threats and high situational awareness for percieved threats to their authority. There’s this growing body of evidence that police are willing to perceive nearly anything one does or does not do as a threat to their authority. It’s a wonder they don’t shoot each other more when they encounter another officer who’s off duty (although that does happen and that’s a thing in it’s own right).

  8. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    I sometimes feel like we need to treat police like dangerous idiots or children who are so focused on controlling something that they lose sight of everything else.

    I often say that you should treat American police as a dangerous animal. It is your job to deescalate the situation because they won’t. Unless you have been in the military, it’s likely that an experience with American police is the most dangerous situation that you have ever been in for your entire life. Act meek to demonstrate that you have immediately submit ted to their authority because otherwise they’re more likely to shoot you, and they are effectively privileged to do so.

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