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6 steps to preventing a cuffed suspect from stealing a patrol vehicle

It seems like every week we hear of a squad car being stolen somewhere in the U.S. Follow these steps to make sure it doesn’t happen to your cruiser

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On June 20, members of the Colorado State Patrol, along with other agencies, attempted to assist in a vehicle pursuit. A vehicle that had been involved in causing numerous vehicle accidents fled from Otero County deputies.

The suspect’s vehicle was stopped when a successful P.I.T. maneuver was conducted. The suspect, Anthony Alphonso Sanchez III, was removed from the car, cuffed and searched before being placed into the back seat of the squad car used in the P.I.T.

The suspect managed to slip his hands in front and crawl through the open window of the cage. He then fled in the squad car. After several attempts to disable the stolen cruiser using spike strips, the vehicle hit the strips, lost control and struck the trailer of a parked semi-truck at a high rate of speed.

The driver was removed from the smoking vehicle and transported to the hospital where he later died.

Let’s watch the video and then discuss.

It seems like every week we hear of a squad car being stolen somewhere in the U.S. Here are six considerations to keep you safe and your squad from being stolen.

1. Is your Cage window locked?

Your security cage should be secured at all times. If you have a cage with a window, at the beginning of your shift, make sure the window is closed and locked. Remember that anytime you put a suspect into the back of a squad car you are placing them into an unknown level of security unless it is your car.

If it isn’t your car make it your responsibility to check to make sure the cage is secure.

2. Watch the prisoner

Let’s face it, at the end of a pursuit like this it is a hectic scene. However, someone should be assigned to monitor the prisoner in the back of the squad car. Preferably the officer assigned to the squad holding the prisoner.

3. Remember, people can slip cuffs

The thinner people are the more likely they can slip their cuffs in front. You can help mitigate that from happening by threading the cuffs through the suspect’s belt if they are wearing one. Putting their seat belt on can also hinder the process as well. Smaller people can also fit through the cage window if it is left open or unsecured.

4. Focus on the job until it is finished!

All too often at the end of a pursuit once the suspect is cuffed and put into a squad car the officers’ mindset changes from a focus on capturing the suspect to celebrating the catch, or searching the vehicle.

In this case, that shift of focus left the suspect unguarded with tragic results. Make sure that the security of the suspect and the squad are taken care of before moving on to other tasks.

5. Consider anti-theft devices

We leave our vehicles running a lot of the time, for a variety of reasons. That practice facilitates the theft of a squad car.

Serious consideration should be given to installing an anti-theft device in every squad car.

6. As your stress lowers, their stress rises

Every officer needs to understand and remember the inverse stress levels that occur at the end of an arrest situation. Once the suspect is in cuffs officers’ stress levels start to drop, since the goal of capturing the suspect has been accomplished.

However, once a suspect is placed in cuffs, with the next stop being jail, their stress level increases and continues to rise. This elevates the fight or flight response, which increases the danger for officers just as officers often start to lower their guard.

The aftermath

Look at the video which shows the destruction caused by the force of the crash. Think about the energy required to move the loaded trailer on a semi-truck. Look at the obliteration of the squad car. Hear the cries of pain of the suspect. Remember that the suspect died because of that crash.

Now imagine what that scene would look like if the fleeing squad had hit any one of those other smaller vehicles. A van with a family of five. An elderly couple out for a drive. The person in the white work truck. Or all three.

Ask yourself if the cable and post guard rails would have stopped that speeding squad from striking the officer who successfully deployed the deflation device. Imagine what it would look like if the driver had hit that instead.

Use those images and the reality of the tragic aftermath of this incident to motivate you to take the steps necessary to ensure that this never happens to you. Check your cage, monitor your prisoners, install an anti-theft device and remember that your suspect’s stress gets higher the closer they get to jail.

NEXT: Analysis: Vehicle-stowed firearms security

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In February 2014, Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a Minnesota Peace Officer after more than 25 years of service (beginning in 1988). During his career, he served as a patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T., use of force and firearms instructor. He was a full-time law enforcement instructor at Alexandria Technical & Community College in Alexandria, Minnesota for 28 years. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University and a Masters Degree in Education from Southwest State University.