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Two deadly pursuits in less than 12 hours: How do IMPD officers determine when to keep going?

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Posted at 8:22 PM, Jun 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-27 22:01:57-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- Two people died and two others were injured in crashes amidst police pursuits in Indianapolis in less than 12 hours Wednesday night.

While pursuits aren't all that uncommon, the significance of these two incidents was in both how quickly they turned and how dangerous they became.

The first pursuit began Wednesday afternoon when an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer tried to pull over a driver on a traffic violation. Roughly a minute into the pursuit, the vehicle became erratic and the officer decided to terminate before anyone was injured. The officer later came across the crash scene nearby with the vehicle inverted and one person trapped beneath it. That person was pronounced dead at the scene and two others inside the vehicle were taken to the hospital to be treated for non-life threatening injuries.

READ | Pursuit ends in fiery crash, one dead

The second pursuit began just before midnight Wednesday when an officer observed a vehicle driving dangerous and erratically, according to IMPD. The officer began to pursue the vehicle and less than half a mile up the road the driver crashed into a power pole. The vehicle caught fire and between stray rounds going off inside of it and downed power lines, officers were unable to get to the driver to help. The driver was pronounced dead at the scene.

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IMPD Assistant Police Chief Randal Taylor says the one thing both of those pursuits had in common was how quickly they turned dangerous, both only lasted mere minutes.

In the first pursuit, the officer chose to terminate after the situation became dangerous - but it didn't keep the driver from continuing on in that manner. That's one thing Taylor says officers are trained to consider and if a pursuit becomes too dangerous they always have the option to fall back.

"We can’t really put the public in extreme danger on these things, depending on speed, the ability of the drivers and weather conditions … all kinds of things," Taylor said. "If we can get a plate off of something or if we can terminate a pursuit and pick it up later at some time when it's safer for all concerned than that would be the way to go. Nobody likes to hear about innocent bystanders getting hit by vehicles, injured or killed, so we're trying to air on the side of safety."

As in nearly every case an officer works, Taylor says the answer isn't always a simple one.

"There’s a lot of ‘what ifs.’ Each officer, each supervisor has an incredible responsibility to figure out what it’s worth during an individual pursuit. Sometimes you have that information – like this is a murder suspect – sometimes you don’t.”

And of course, the location and situations surrounding each pursuit will never be the same. Different officers are trained to assist in different scenarios, such as using pit maneuvers, or deploying strips. IMPD also works closely with nearby departments whenever the need arises.

“Obviously if an officer is out in the rural area, maybe they have a little more latitude in some things,” Taylor said.

In 2018, IMPD officers were involved in 511 pursuits, according to Taylor, and 67 of those - or roughly 13 percent - were terminated by the officer. That's a number he says is significant because it shows that the officers are making a conscious effort to gauge their situation, and make sure the crime that they are pursuing is worth the danger of the pursuit.

"They’re making wiser decisions on whether or not it’s dangerous to pursue those vehicles. Taking into account the conditions of the roads, traffic conditions, the lives of the person who chose to flee from police and their own safety."