INDIANAPOLIS — Police departments across the state of Indiana are making changes to their vehicle pursuit policies.
On January 1, 2023, a statewide policy takes effect creating minimum standards for how police can pursue suspects.
The new minimum standards say the risk to public safety should be a top concern, and that police officers must consider many factors including:
- Potential danger if suspect isn’t apprehended immediately
- Violation the suspect is accused of
- Imminent danger to the public
- Time of day
- Traffic conditions and visibility
- Officer’s familiarity with surroundings and population density
“Pursuits in general are risky business and they are dangerous,” said Tim Horty, executive director of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.
Horty is also a member of the Law Enforcement Training Board which came up with the state’s new pursuit policy.
“We researched state law primarily and looked at other model policies from around the state,” said Horty. “I think it really makes police departments look deeply into their policy and make sure that they balance the difference the apprehension and the danger to our community."
WRTV Investigates filed a records request with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
NHTSA data for Indiana shows 75 people have died in police pursuit crashes since 2015.
35% of those deaths were people not even involved in the pursuit, records show.
“Pursuits are dangerous,” said Horty. “They really are.”
A father and his daughter, 12, were killed on I-465 in September when a suspect fleeing police drove the wrong way after IMPD had called off their pursuit.
In February 2022, Mooresville Police and a suspect they were chasing hit speeds of more than 110 mph right before a crash left an innocent woman dead.
WRTV Investigates filed records requests with police departments for pursuit policies throughout Central Indiana, and of those we surveyed, all already have similar language to the state standard.
Kokomo, Noblesville, Lawrence and Mooresville police departments told WRTV they’re currently evaluating their policies to make sure they comply with the new state policy.
Indianapolis Metro Police do not plan to change its pursuit policy because it is already more restrictive than the state standard.
IMPD’s policy, updated in August 2020, states a pursuit may not be initiated based solely upon an observed traffic infraction.
The statewide changes stem from Senate Bill 294, authored by Senator Mike Crider, a former police officer.
"You often hear in the sports world, you play the way you practice,” said Crider.
Crider emphasizes the new law will make training more uniform across the state when it comes to pursuits.
"This is a scary part of policing,” said Crider. “The more training that officers engage in, the better prepared they are to make these decisions. Often you don't hear about the times when the officers decide the conditions aren't right and they terminate without any action."
Crider said there was no specific incident that prompted him to write the bill, but pursuits have been on his radar for a while.
“Anytime you hear about an accident that happens during one of the pursuits, it's always a tragedy,” said Crider. “Usually involves some innocent bystander that's impacted."
In Mooresville, the suspect who hit and killed Vickie Berry had meth in his system at the time of the crash.
A disciplinary board unanimously agreed both officers followed Mooresville’s pursuit policy.
Mooresville Police Chief Kerry Buckner told WRTV they are working on updating their policy, possibly with more restrictions than the state standard.
“One thing that I will be pushing for is the ability to train and equip my officers with the tools and training to end pursuits before they get started,” said Buckner in an email to WRTV. “In my experience, the people fleeing do not always quit fleeing and driving reckless after the police terminate their pursuits. Having tools to stop the pursuits before they get started will reduce that hazard."
If a police department fails to comply with the pursuit standards, they would have to face the Law Enforcement Training Board who could impose sanctions.