Watch: Ariz. PDs using 'the Grappler' to stop fleeing vehicles
Video shows a Phoenix squad car deploying the tether, ensnaring the suspect's rear tire and dragging the driver to a stop
By Scott Shumaker
East Valley Tribune (Mesa, Ariz.)
MESA, Ariz. — When a fleeing vehicle must be stopped because it poses a serious danger to the public, Mesa and other police departments' go-to tool has been a well-placed nudge to the rear of the vehicle, causing the suspect car spin out and hopefully come to a stop.
The so-called Pursuit Intervention Technique, or PIT maneuver, often works, but it carries significant safety risks for all involved.
Across the country, bumped cars sometimes careen wildly from the roadway, or start rolling, posing a hazard to the suspect, passengers and bystanders.
Mesa PD uses PIT, but officials are not completely satisfied with the risks of the technique.
So, the department has been experimenting with an alternative: a device invented by a Peoria man called the Grappler Police Bumper that can bring fleeing cars to a stop in a more controlled way.
The Grappler uses a nylon net on a tether to snare a suspect's rear tire. The pursuing police vehicle drives up close enough behind the suspect to get the net, which is spread between two retractable metal prongs, tangled up in the suspect's rear wheel. Once wrapped around the suspect's tire and axle, the pursuing officer hits the brakes.
In videos of successful captures, the snared vehicle appears powerless to maneuver or drive away and the police vehicle brings it to a quick stop. The process is not unlike a cowboy on horseback roping a steer.
Mesa PD purchased two of the devices for a pilot program, installed them on undercover police vehicles and has successfully stopped nine suspects with The Grappler, which is manufactured in North Phoenix.
Now Mesa police are ready to buy more and deploy them throughout the department.
Assistant Chief Dan Butler told City Council at its April 7 discussion session that the department would like to purchase 24 Grapplers, at a total cost of $125,000, to install on patrol cars placed strategically throughout the city.
Butler said the department first looked at the devices as an alternative to PIT in 2019. To convey to Council why the department wanted an alternative, he described the type of outcomes that can occur after the maneuver
"We take a vehicle that's doing 35, 45, 55 mph," Butler said, "we bump the rear end of it, it spins out, it loses control, hits a curb, hits a median, maybe hits a stop sign or a light, comes to a stop, and then we come and lock that vehicle in with two additional police vehicles."
"Through our analysis, we didn't really like the outcome in respect to the damage and the risk to our community," he added.
Bumper taps also require training, and in 2019, the vehicles Mesa was using to practice the maneuver were reaching the end of their life. So on top of the inherent risk of PIT, Butler said, the department was looking at a $1.5 million bill to maintain the program.
During his presentation, Butler showed dashcam video of an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer deploying the Grappler on a suspect's vehicle.
The officer drives up close behind an erratic sport utility vehicle, then hits the breaks as the suspect moves away, tether attached like a harpooned whale before they are brought to a stop. The clip ends with the driver in handcuffs.
"This is pretty cool," Councilwoman Julie Spilsbury said after watching the clip, quipping that it would be nice to have a Grappler for humans.
Inventor Leonard Stock said in a 2018 segment of The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation that he came up with the design of the device after watching police chase videos and being shocked by how many ended badly. He woke up at 3 a.m. with the basic outline in his head and sketched the concept.
Since the first Grappler capture of a real suspect vehicle in 2018, the Arizona DPS and Mesa PD have been notching successful deployments each year.
In January, Mesa PD used a Grappler to catch a suspect who witnesses observed speeding through a neighborhood at Main Street and Stapley Drive and erratically firing a gun at a home. Officers followed him into Phoenix before deploying the Grappler and arresting him.
Body Cam Upgrades
The Grappler is not the only piece of technology Mesa PD is investing in. The department is spending $1.1 million on a body camera upgrade and expansion as part of a mid-year budget adjustment.
The cameras will be supplied by Axon Enterprise Inc, formerly TASER International Inc.
Assistant Chief Lee Rankin told council the upgrade would increase the number of body cameras in the department from 456 to 669 and expand their use to include all uniformed officers — including some positions that didn't previously have them, including school resources officers, mental health support teams and patrol sergeants.
The Axon Body 3 camera has better sound and video quality than previous models, among other updates. If an officer draws his or her firearm or TASER, the body cameras of all the officers in the area start recording.
Mesa's contract with Axon includes the cost of storing footage.
Mesa PD was an earlier experimenter in police body cameras, first testing them in 2012, years before they were widely adopted.
"The increased deployment of body cameras will not only increase transparency, but will improve officer safety and contribute to increased risk management," Rankin told Council.
(c)2022 East Valley Tribune (Mesa, Ariz.)