A Stop Stick deployment in Prince George's County, close to Washington, DC—that stopped a suspect traveling at speeds approaching 120 miles per hour—has earned Stop Stick's 2019 Hit of the Year. Lieutenant Jordan Swonger, a highly decorated, 15-year veteran with Prince George's County Police Department recently received Hit of the Year honors for his timely Stop Stick deployment. His hit was singled out from hundreds of entries not only because of the safe and effective deployment, but also because it brought an extremely dangerous high-speed pursuit to more manageable speeds and a controlled halt—protecting the safety of the public, the pursuing officers and even the suspect.
A "Wrong Way" Start
The volatile situation began at approximately 10:30 p.m. in August when sheriff deputies in neighboring Calvert County attempted to pull over an individual in a Mazda Protege suspected of drunk driving. The suspect began driving the wrong way on one of the county's main roadways and actually struck a Maryland State Trooper's vehicle. While Prince George's County is not in direct communication with these agencies, dispatch notified Lt. Swonger and his colleagues when the Calvert County Sheriff Deputies and Maryland State Police pursued the suspect across the county line on Pennsylvania Avenue. This is the famous Pennsylvania Avenue that traverses Prince George's County and eventually leads into Washington, DC, and the White House.
Lt. Swonger understood the importance of stopping the suspect as soon as possible. While the pursuit had begun in a relatively rural area, the suspect was about to move into a very densely populated area with numerous pedestrian crosswalks and heavily trafficked intersections. In addition, the pursuing officers were outside of their normal area, engaged in a high-speed pursuit on roadways unfamiliar to them at night.
"The faster we could slow this guy down, the safer it would be for everyone."
Lt. Swonger immediately began considering places he could position himself with Stop Stick, assuming the suspect continued to travel on his current path. He selected the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Capital Beltway/Route 495. Lt. Swonger was familiar with this location because it was within his patrol area when he began his police career. He selected it for several reasons. While Pennsylvania Avenue is ground-level, the Capital Beltway has flyover bridges for a ten-lane highway. "The intersection of the two roadways with the overpasses creates a nice choke point," he explains. "Most of Pennsylvania Avenue has wide shoulders and the suspect could drive on grass to avoid Stop Stick, but in this location, the roadway is constricted. There's a concrete Jersey barrier on one side and an aluminum guardrail on other side. It restricts any attempt to swerve to avoid the Stop Stick."
"It was a high probability location—if the suspect passed this way, I was almost assured of good deployment."
The location provided Swonger with the best possible protection, he explains. There was an elevated four-foot concrete Jersey barrier to hide behind. "At the time of deployment, the suspect was traveling at approximately 117 mile per hour. Things happen very quickly at that speed, so I wanted a location where I was completely off the roadway," he says. Swonger adds that from his elevated position, he took full advantage of the Stop Stick's long cord reel to deploy the device.
"It was a fluid situation where communication was critical."
Because Lt. Swonger didn't have direct radio communication with the other two agencies, he had to relay information through the dispatcher. Swonger ensured the pursuing officers understood exactly where he was deploying Stop Stick and confirmed they would fall back. "I wanted to strike the violator's tires but needed to avoid striking the cruisers in pursuit."
"It was a hit-or-miss kind of moment."
"If I missed, it was highly likely all agencies would have to terminate pursuit at the District of Columbia line, which was a mere five miles ahead," Lt. Swonger shares.
Fortunately, the deployment could not have gone any better, according to the officer. "I hit all four of his tires and there was a dramatic effect in slowing the speed. By time he reached the first intersection, his speed was cut by half. Within a minute of Stop Stick deployment, the suspect's speed was under 30 miles per hour."
Safety and Success!
"Using the Stop Stick, we were able to slow those speeds down, change the pursuit strategy and allow our officers to then assist with the slow speed vehicle pursuit," he adds. The suspect maintained control of his vehicle before coming to a stop within four miles from the hit.
The suspect didn't even realize he had hit the Stop Stick, which were deployed in black sleeves, according to Swonger. "He knew his car was slowing but didn't realize why. Every ounce of rubber was off the tires when the suspect stopped. The car physically wouldn't move anymore," he adds.
Half an hour after the pursuit began and at the edge of Washington, D.C., the suspect was taken into custody and charged with drunk driving and felony assault.
Practice Pays Off
While this was Lt. Swonger's first time deploying Stop Stick during pursuit of an actual suspect's vehicle, he was extremely familiar with the tool from consistent training. Swonger commands a multi-jurisdictional task force designed to recover stolen and felony vehicles. The task force is named WAVE (Washington Area Vehicle Enforcement). His unit's Stop Stick devices were purchased using funds from the Maryland governor's crime control prevention grant. He and his officers practice regularly with Stop Stick to maintain their skills. "We talk about deployments, we scout deployment locations ahead of time, we try to incorporate Stop Stick into our plans for high risk operations," Swonger says. Most importantly, he adds that the unit simulates deployment using training devices on actual roads with real cars at actual speeds. "This teaches officers to anticipate the direction of the violator's vehicle, find a suitable deployment location, and successfully deploy on live roadways during day or night."
He adds that this real-time, fast-paced, repetitive practice helps the officers understand the capabilities of the device and how to best use them to protect themselves and the community. "The practice builds proficiency," he adds, "Which in this case, paid in huge dividends!"