Why is DPS allowed to shoot during chases?
A New Year’s Eve chase through north Houston highlighted a rarely seen tactic used by state troopers. The winding chase played out on T.V. and ended shortly after a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper shot out the tires of an SUV.
The chase started when officers tried to pull over 34 year old Brett Alan Poppenhesun, who has a lengthy criminal record. During his run from officers, Poppenhesun was seen hopping curbs, ramming three police cars and driving the wrong way down feeder roads.
[READ: DPS Chase Policy]
Eventually a pair of state troopers get close enough to Poppenhesun for one to lean out of the passenger window of the cruiser and shoot the SUV’s tires. This tactic helped end the chase without anyone getting hurt and Poppenhusen’s arrest. He was charged with Driving While Intoxicated and evading police; a felony.
“When somebody is using a vehicle as a weapon it's not an accident, it's an on-purpose,” said Tom Nixon, an attorney and former Houston police officer.
Nixon said since Texas law allows for a car to be considered a deadly weapon, DPS allows troopers to respond with potentially deadly force when a trooper or the public’s life is in eminent danger.
DPS records show out of the 852 chases DPS was involved in last year, 21 involved troopers firing at fleeing cars.
“If you're just shooting out the tires or you're disabling the vehicle you're doing so to disable the weapon the suspect is using,” said Nixon.
However, HPD and the Harris County Sheriff's Office prohibits officers and deputies from shooting from their cars during a chase. The reason; crowded streets and neighborhoods create the potential for accidental targets.
“You have the potential to injure, in certain environments, innocent third parties,” said Larry Karson, University of Houston-Downtown criminal justice professor and retired Customs Agent.
Karson said his concern comes when DPS uses this tactic in crowded urban areas versus desolate stretches of road.
“You have to be very, very careful in how wide you leave that door open because people will go through it,” said Karson.
DPS officials said troopers are trained to fire from their vehicles and the department's policy requires them to consider their surroundings or face consequences. During the New Year's Eve chase the trooper is seen waiting to take the shot until he was near Poppenhesun's bumper and no one else was close by.
Channel 2 Investigates checked with 49 other states on policies regarding firing from vehicles during a pursuit. Nineteen reported state troopers are allowed, in life threatening circumstances, to fire during a chase. Seven states reported this tactic was prohibited. The remaining states have not yet responded to our requests for information.
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