Crime & Courts

WPD suspending use of spike strips after officer critically hurt

A police spike strip lies in the street at Kinkaid and Topeka. Police and sheriff officers investigate the scene at Kinkaid and Topeka after an officer was struck by a car driven by a felony suspect. (Feb. 7, 2017)
A police spike strip lies in the street at Kinkaid and Topeka. Police and sheriff officers investigate the scene at Kinkaid and Topeka after an officer was struck by a car driven by a felony suspect. (Feb. 7, 2017) The Wichita Eagle

After a Wichita police officer using a tire-deflation device was run over and critically injured by a fleeing, stolen SUV this week, the Police Department has suspended its use of the tool, an official confirmed.

“Basically it’s just a good safety practice” to review procedures and policies in the wake of the incident, said Deputy Police Chief Jose Salcido.

Salcido said he has learned from his 26 years of military experience that any time there is an incident involving equipment and safety, it’s wise to step back and review its use.

He said he was not suggesting that the injured officer, Brian Arterburn, or other officers did anything wrong. Arterburn is a 25-year veteran and has worked out of the Patrol South station not far from where he was hit.

The man suspected of driving the SUV, Justin Terrazas, 31, appeared in court Friday. He is charged with aggravated battery against a law enforcement officer and leaving the scene of an accident, among other charges.

The department’s “stand-down” on tire spike strips will last 30 days, Salcido said.

“We have to let emotions die down” and analyze use of the strips, Salcido said.

Radio traffic

Tuesday afternoon, Wichita police began pursuing the stolen black SUV at least 2 minutes and 16 seconds before it struck the officer, according to recordings of emergency radio traffic obtained by The Eagle from Broadcastify, a service that archives emergency radio traffic. Sedgwick County officials denied The Eagle’s request for emergency communications about the incident, saying it was part of an ongoing investigation.

Salcido said he couldn’t comment on the pursuit because of the pending investigation.

A photograph taken by The Eagle on Tuesday afternoon of the intersection where the SUV ran over Arterburn shows a spike strip lying near the curb where police say the fleeing driver struck Arterburn while driving south on Topeka at Kinkaid. That intersection is just east of Broadway north of Pawnee.

In September 2015, The Eagle reported that Wichita-area law enforcement agencies had no plans to stop using spike strips even though the risks in deploying them had caused some agencies around the nation to end their use. That article noted that between 1996, when the spike strips were introduced, and 2011, 26 officers had died while using them.

Officers have to quickly determine where a fleeing car is heading, toss the strip on the roadway and retreat to a spot where they won’t be hit by the vehicle – but stay close enough that they can pull the strip back so pursuing patrol cars won’t roll over it. The strips are tied to a string on which the officer tugs. Officers typically stow the strips on the underside of the trunk lid on patrol cars.

Wichita police officials won’t discuss details of how Arterburn was struck because it is part of a continuing investigation.

On the emergency radio traffic, a voice is heard about 2 minutes and 16 seconds before Arterburn was hit, saying, “He’s going south.” It’s not clear when or where the pursuit started or how closely police were following but it was apparently north of Mount Vernon and around Santa Fe.

Someone called for officers to converge on the area of Santa Fe and Mount Vernon, several blocks northeast of the residential intersection where Arterburn was hit.

The vehicle they were pursuing was described as going west on Mount Vernon, then south on St. Francis before ending up on Topeka. It’s a one-way street going south.

‘He’s punching it’

As the pursuit continued, a male voice called out over the radio, with noticeable urgency: “He’s punching it, guys. He’s goin’.”

That came a little over a minute into the pursuit that can be heard over the radio.

Then, about 35 seconds later, a different male voice said, “We’re going to deploy.” It’s not clear what “deploy” meant because police deploy any number of different pieces of equipment or specialized personnel such as canine units during certain pursuits.

Then, about 30 seconds later, someone calls out that an officer had been hit and run over by the SUV at Topeka and Kinkaid.

One clearly upset person screams the location over the radio.

At a briefing after the incident, police said that an officer with Arterburn fired at least one shot.

With more police pursuing, the black SUV continued not far south to Pawnee, then a short drive to the east where the driver ran from the black SUV and went into a business. Some motorists told reporters that the black SUV barely missed hitting them.

Employees at the business helped subdue the suspect, and officers arrested him with the aid of a police dog.

Someone on the radio told officers to avoid South Topeka, where Arterburn lay critically injured near the spike strip.

“No more officers come up Topeka. We need to clear it for EMS,” someone called out.

“We’re keeping it open for them.”

Amy Renee Leiker: 316-268-6644, @amyreneeleiker

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