What Is a PIT Maneuver? Nicole Harper Incident Throws Spotlight on Police Tactic

A lawsuit filed against an Arkansas State Police officer has reignited the debate over law enforcement's use of the pursuit intervention technique—or PIT—to end car chases.

Nicole Harper was just over two months pregnant when her vehicle was flipped upside down on a highway outside Jacksonville in July 2020. She was driving at about 60 miles per hour when Officer Rodney Dunn used a PIT maneuver to stop her car.

Dashcam footage of the incident has been released by Harper's lawyers as she is suing Dunn alleging that his use of the maneuver was negligent and put her life at risk.

The footage shows Dunn turning on his blue lights and trying to get Harper to pull over for allegedly driving at 84 mph in a 70 mph zone. Harper can then be seen reducing her speed and turning on her emergency flashers, indicating that she was intending to pull over.

Harper said she was looking for a safe space to pull over as the shoulder on the interstate was too narrow.

A short while later, Dunn performs a PIT, which is commonly used by police to end high-speed chases. The maneuver involves a patrol car nudging the back of the suspect's car, causing it to spin and come to a halt.

According to California Highway Patrol instructions: "The key to proper execution of the PIT is finesse. Ideally, the initial contact with the subject vehicle should be so gentle the operator of the subject vehicle is not aware that contact has been made."

After Dunn hit Harper's car, her SUV flipped over entirely.

"I thought it would be safer to wait until the exit," Harper can be heard telling Dunn while still upside down in her car.

"No, ma'am, you should pull over when law enforcement stops you," Dunn replies while helping her out of the vehicle. "We call that a PIT maneuver. When people flee from us … that's what happens."

"I wasn't fleeing," Harper responds.

The use of the maneuver has come into question because of its potentially deadly outcomes.

According to a Washington Post report from August 2020, at least 30 people have died and hundreds more have been injured in PIT incidents since 2016.

Of those 30 deaths, 18 took place after officers attempted to stop vehicles for minor violations such as speeding. Four of the people who died were bystanders or the victim of a crime.

The total number of fatalities and injuries is unknown because police departments in the U.S. are not required to keep track of the incidents by the federal government.

According to an investigation by Fox 16, Arkansas State Police used or attempted to use the technique at least 306 times between January 2017 and December 2020. Half of the incidents took place last year.

The Washington Post article published last August points out that Arkansas State Police performed a PIT maneuver at 109 mph to end a chase in Fort Smith on April 10, 2020. The subject, Justin Battenfield, was killed. Officers began their pursuit of Battenfield after he allegedly failed to stop at a traffic signal.

Because of the maneuver's unpredictability, a number of states say officers should not use the PIT during high-speed chases.

In North Carolina, PITs can only be used if the suspect's car is traveling at less than 55 miles per hour. The Nevada Highway Patrol's policy states that a PIT cannot be performed unless "the suspect is an actual or suspected felon who reasonably appears to represent a serious threat to society if not apprehended," according to an Intercept article in 2016.

Other agencies are banned from using a PIT against motorcycles or vehicles carrying hazardous materials.

"The PIT is a risky maneuver, period. It is," Rick Giovengo, a former officer who has studied and taught PITs at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers, told Fox 16.

"The speed, the people in the car, the crime that's been committed, those are things that all have to be taken into consideration by the responding officer before they do the PIT."

In a statement to Fox 16 after the Dunn incident, Arkansas State Police Colonel Bill Bryant said: "Over the past five years, Arkansas State Troopers have documented a 52 percent increase in incidents of drivers making a conscious choice to ignore traffic stops initiated by the troopers.

"Instead of stopping, the drivers try to flee. In more populated areas of the state, the incidents of fleeing from troopers have risen by more than 80 percent. The fleeing drivers pull away at a high rate of speed, wildly driving, dangerously passing other vehicles, showing no regard for the safety of other motorists, creating an imminent threat to the public.

"Should a driver make the decision to ignore the law and flee from police, state troopers are trained to consider their options."

Bryant added: "PIT has proven to be an effective tool to stop drivers who are placing others in harm's way. It has saved lives among those who choose to obey the law against those who choose to run from police. In every case a state trooper has used a PIT maneuver, the fleeing driver could have chosen to end the pursuit by doing what all law-abiding citizens do every day when a police officer turns on the blue lights—they pull over and stop."

Newsweek has contacted Arkansas State Police for further comment.

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File photo of police cars in California on November 8, 2018. An incident involving an Arkansas State Police officer and a pregnant driver has reignited the debate over law enforcement's use of the pursuit intervention technique. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images