INDIANAPOLIS — For 23 years, Officer Clayton Willis has been patrolling the streets of Indianapolis to keep everyone safe. Lately, the way he sees people driving is enough to scare even him.
"It is scary," Willis said. "I think about it all the time because I have two teen drivers (of my own) now. And to see people driving the way they do — running lights, stop signs, speeding in school zones — it's concerning not only as a policeman but also as a father."
Reckless driving charges filed in Marion County went up by almost 70% last year compared to 2019. So far this year, 48 counts have been filed.
It's also a concern in neighboring Boone County, where the prosecutor has filed 67 counts so far this year, compared to 63 all of last year and 54 in 2019.
"Just yesterday, I'm working a school zone. A 25-mile an hour school zone with flashing lights," said IMPD Officer Matt Frazier, who has been on the department 24 years. "I had a car come through there at 51 miles an hour and it is just becoming worse and worse."
Last week, a 7-year-old girl was hit and killed in a crosswalk near her Indianapolis school.
IMPD said the incident is under investigation, but they believe the car that hit and killed Hannah Crutchfield was first hit by an aggressive driver. No one has been charged in that crash.
Police believe the spike started during the pandemic lockdown when drivers took advantage of the decrease in traffic by racing, speeding and generally ignoring traffic laws.
And now that regular traffic is back, it's gotten worse.
"Honestly I think people have gotten very selfish," Frazier said. "Their world exists right here and this is most important. So everybody else is in their way."
In Indiana, reckless driving is considered a misdemeanor and can carry fines in the thousands of dollars, up to a year in jail, and the loss of a driver's license.
The officer's message is a simple one: "We all have families and friends out here on the roadway. Over my career, I've seen several fatal accidents," Willis said. "It’s terrible — terrible on the families. Just slow down. It's not worth it."
Lawmakers from Indianapolis have issued a letter to Governor Eric Holcomb addressing this issue and offering possible solutions.
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The letter, signed by State Rep. Blake Johnson (D-Indianapolis) and State Rep. Mitch Gore (D-Indianapolis), pointed to a 31% increase in fatal crashes in Marion County in 2020 and an 8% increase statewide. These statistics outpace the national average of a 7% increase in fatal crashes in 2020.
"This comes as state and local law enforcement agencies across Indiana have had to reallocate resources away from traffic enforcement to handle the increase in criminal activity that we’ve seen across the country," the letter says.
The letter also states that for every fatal crash there's an average of over 100 serious injury crashes and these injuries are overwhelming the already overtaxed hospitals across the state.
The lawmakers say the pandemic is to blame and suggest Gov. Holcomb use a portion of the $350 million available to the state in Coronavirus Relief Funds to address the issue. They propose allocating this "use-it-or-lose-it" money to law enforcement agencies to pay for overtime for officers working traffic enforcement details and to county prosecutors to ease in handling the additional workload they would likely experience.
"All data indicates that the situation on our roads is directly caused by conditions related to the pandemic. Surely, if body cams, stab vests, and hazard pay are allowable expenditures under CARES and ARP rules, a reckless driving abatement program would be, as well," the letter says.
The lawmakers will be holding a news conference Thursday where they'll roll out their full plan to make Indiana roads safer. The news conference will begin at 2 p.m. and be available to watch live here.