Ride along with police to learn the secrets of high-speed chases
GREENFIELD, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Thanks to police dash cameras that allow the public to ride along on high-speed chases, we can watch as officers catch the bad guys and sometimes tragically, when they don't.
The PIT maneuver is a special technique for ending police pursuits that only a handful of agencies in the Milwaukee area use.
Police in Greenfield emphasize the PIT, and department leaders feel it's making a real difference on the streets.
The cost of a police chase can be staggeringly high. Property damage, innocent bystanders hurt, or worse, a tragic loss of life.
The Greenfield Police Department prioritizes keeping those costs to an absolute minimum.
"Our philosophy is stop the pursuit as soon as you can," said Captain Sean Licht, Greenfield Police Department.
A key tool Greenfield officers use while chasing is the PIT maneuver. Short for Pursuit Intervention Technique, it's when police try to spin out a vehicle to disable it.
"The sooner we can get a PIT done, the better," said Captain Licht.
A Greenfield chase from September ended successfully with a PIT maneuver near 84th and Layton. Four robbery suspects were arrested.
Sometimes more than one PIT is needed, like in a pursuit from 2018.
"The goal is for the vehicle to be taken out of commission and the suspects give up," said Captain Licht.
In 60 pursuits this year, Greenfield has performed a PIT maneuver in 14 of them -- just about one in four.
Greenfield has had tragic low points using PIT maneuvers. In August of 2018, Officer Nicholas Meyer's PIT caused the fleeing pickup truck to crash. The 25-year-old driver inside died. Meyer wasn't charged with a crime.
The choice to attempt a PIT is as serious as pointing a gun. Department leaders say officers must quickly go through a mental checklist to decide whether a PIT is appropriate.
“The conditions have to be right," Licht said. "We take traffic conditions into effect, we take weather conditions, severity of the crime.”
The decisions aren't casual, they're born out of intense training. Every two years, Greenfield police officers have to get re-certified in PIT maneuvers.
Eugene Reyes is the director of Milwaukee Area Technical College's police academy. He practices with officers finding the sweet spot on a fleeing vehicle.
"We want that front fender by the head lamp to be right by the rear wheel and just above the bumper," Reyes said.
Reyes also preaches, all it takes is a nudge.
“Let’s just make this clear. This is not a ramming technique," Reyes said. “It’s just a very slight touch. That’ll break the contact between the rear wheels and the pavement.”
Training tops out at 35 miles per hour. On the streets, Greenfield allows officers to PIT at any speed as long as it's within reason -- another checkbox on an officer's mental checklist.
"It's a very simple technique and it’s actually easier to do the higher the speeds are, but it’s a little bit more dangerous of course," said Reyes.
It takes at least eight successful PITs to pass the training.
“You have to do something very unnatural and that is basically initiating contact with another vehicle," Reyes said.
Then what happens on the track gets applied to the real world.
"We're going to be aggressive but also temper that with following in our training, following the law," said Licht.
Greenfield has a review board that goes over every pursuit, looking at ways to improve and also if there were any protocol violations.
Greenfield police can chase drivers for any violation, but they'll end pursuits too if it gets too dangerous relative to the crime.
In September, they did just that -- let a man go who took off from a traffic stop.