They don’t teach you everything the first time you go through the law enforcement training academy. You might get sprayed with mace and learn what it feels like to be tazed, but can you stop a speeding car while standing flat-footed on the ground?
By the end of the week, every sworn officer working for the Cullman County sheriff’s office should be able to answer ‘yes’ to that question.
Patrol officers and investigators took some time Tuesday and Wednesday for some training on how to ‘throw’ spike strips to help end a high-speed chase. Spike strips are what their name indicates — strips of rubber faced with jagged spikes. About the width of one highway lane, the strips are used by an officer on foot near a roadside, who times their placement to anticipate the moment when a fleeing suspect’s vehicle will roll past.
When they do roll past, if the strip placement is successful, they won’t be rolling much farther. The strips shred tires and render speeding vehicles all but unusable.
Sheriff Mike Rainey said Wednesday spike strips are essentially a safety tool; one he hopes soon to make available to every deputy.
“We’ve been in a lot of situations where we could have used them, if every patrol unit had a set of strips in the car,” said Rainey. “When I became sheriff, we had about four sets. In the near future, everybody will have them, and everybody on patrol will know how to use them. It’s just a handy tool that can help end a dangerous scenario where you’ve got a driver who’s endangering other people’s lives.”
The department’s two certified trainers, Lt. Phillip Patterson and Cpt. Jon Montgomery, work with deputies on their timing and placement, as well as roadside safety as they set the strips.
“There’s a little bit of a technique to it, but it’s pretty simple,” said Patterson. “They’re designed to operate simply, so it’s not something you have to have a college degree in to be able to do. The biggest part of it is nerves, especially in a live situation. That’s why we wanted to be able to give everyone a chance to use the ‘dummy’ sticks’ to give them a little bit of a chance to get acquainted with it and to get comfortable with the movement.”
In training exercises, the ‘dummy’ spike strips are made of foam. They don’t damage the cars, and allow for repeated passes while patrol officers refine their technique. “Yeah, it would be nice to train with the real thing,” quipped Patterson, “but tires are kind of expensive.”
As the sheriff’s office adds more spike strips to equip its patrol staff of almost 50 deputies, it will purchase the equipment using money out of its discretionary fund, which is replenished in part from money raised at the annual sheriff’s benefit rodeo.
“These things cost about $500 a set, so we’ve been buying them as we can,” he said. “We’ve got just over half the patrol cars equipped, and we’ve got another 10 sets on the way. All of this is done at no cost to the taxpayer; we use our special projects fund that is supplied from money we raise from the rodeo.
“It’s worth it, because at the end of the day, it’s a safety issue. It can end a situation where a suspect is endangering the public with his car, and take it down to where our deputies can instead deal with him on foot.”
Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.