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New statewide police chase rules for 'inherently dangerous' pursuits

Police departments say they’re now updating their policies ahead of the new year.
Credit: WTHR

INDIANAPOLIS — Editor's Note: The following line was changed to reflect police said the man exited the car and reportedly had a weapon and not a gun.

Lawrence police say they fired when the man exited the car and reportedly had a weapon.

Starting Jan. 1, Indiana will have statewide minimum standards for when law enforcement can chase a suspect. 

Police departments in Central Indiana say they’re now updating their policies ahead of the new year.

“Can't say (pursuits) happen daily, but they do happen a few times a week,” Lawrence Police Chief Gary Woodruff said.

Woodruff sent 13News his department’s new policy Thursday. The updated version was approved by the city’s Board of Public Works and Safety that same day. He wanted to make sure the wording his department used aligned with this 7 page uniform statewide policy on minimum standards for vehicle pursuits approved by the Law Enforcement Training Board back in November.

"It's pretty much the same," Woodruff said.

That was true for many Central Indiana departments. 13 Investigates reviewed nine pursuit polices from law enforcement agencies in Central Indiana. Many were in line with the new standards which balance stopping crime with protecting the public.

A few departments had more restrictive policies. IMPD had the strictest policy. The department also reported more than 430 pursuits as of the morning of Dec. 30.        

The new state policy states, “Consideration for the risk to public safety is the primary concern” when initiating a chase. However, it does not explicitly prohibit chases involving minor offenses, instead giving officers a lot of discretion when to pursue.

The Metro Police policy, on the other hand, is more restrictive. IMPD usually only OKs pursuits for known or possible felonies and certain misdemeanors. Typically, officers cannot give chase just for a traffic violation or because someone flees.

Tim Horty, executive director of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, said stricter rules are allowed, but the minimums were needed.

“I have heard that there are some small departments around that don't have any policies,” he said.

He couldn’t name a specific department, but said this policy should make sure officers have the same framework before pursing a suspect, to protect the officers and the public.

“All of our officers, whether brown or green or blue uniform, have to follow the same minimum policy,” Horty said.

Because these chases can have serious consequences.

“(Pursuits) are dangerous by their very nature,” Horty said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 5,340 police chase related deaths nationwide from 2005 to 2020. Indiana saw 155 deaths during that 15-year period. The federal government compiles the data as part of its Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

“That is never our intent, but sometimes there are an unintended consequence,” Horty said.

He can’t say the new standards will reduce deaths in Indiana, but he’s hopeful.

13News has covered some of the local police chase-related deaths.

Shirley Trotter is taking steps to sue after her son died at the hands of Lawrence police. Trotter told 13News her son Carlos planned to donate a kidney to her before he was killed on October 27.

"Police have to understand, that I know you have to do a job, but you got to understand to watch what you do,” she said. “You know what I am saying. Think about it, it could have been your son or your daddy or your mama."

Woodruff would not comment on the case because of pending litigation. However, the department initially said an officer gave chase after trying to pull over a stolen car. They say Carlos Trotter was behind the wheel. He crashed the car shortly after police called off the chase. Lawrence police say they fired when the man exited the car and reportedly had a weapon.

A month before, in September, we reported when a father and daughter were killed shortly after an IMPD pursuit. The suspect drove the wrong way on I-465. Police called off the pursuit, but the suspect crashed - killing himself as well as the 12 year old and her dad.

Woodruff says whenever a life is lost it’s a tragedy. He still remembers being part of a fatal crash about 35 years ago.

“Long time ago,” he said. “But I can remember every detail of it like it was yesterday.”

He’s glad Indiana now has a minimum standard because these chases can have life changing and life taking consequences.

The new rules were a requirement of a new law passed during the 2022 legislative session. The law also requires the board to submit a new statewide deadly force policy, which was also approved in November but won’t go into effect until Jan. 2024.

ILEA’s website says the implementation of the policy is delayed to “allow the LETB to develop a robust and detailed training program.” The passage of this policy is more controversial because departments will not be allowed to amend it.

"So that an officer in Southern Indiana has the same legal responsibility as one in the northern part of the state,” Horty said. “Because it's just not fair that an officer could react one way in a county and get himself or herself indicted and do the same thing in a different county and would be considered a justifiable shooting.”

Right now, each agency has its own use of force and deadly force rules. Some polices more restrictive than what’s proposed and may have to roll back the department’s standards. For example, IMPD will have to ban choke holds if the current policy is put in place.

Horty says the policy is still being reviewed and discussed with national groups. It could change before the January 2024 deadline.

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