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INDIANAPOLIS — A new initiative between the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and Indiana State Police is working to crack down on reckless driving in Marion County.

“This year our city has seen too many examples of how reckless or negligent driving can be deadly,” said Mayor Joe Hogsett. “Our message today is clear: knock it off.”

From cyclists to pedestrians, including children going to and from school, plus other drivers on the road, city and law enforcement officials said they’ve seen too many examples of this.

“In addition to the most tragic of examples, we can identify so many more, that while short of fatal, still cause severe, permanent injury or damage to property,” Hogsett said.

Since the start of the pandemic, police have seen an increase in aggressive driving, speeding, distracted driving, people driving drunk or high, and others driving angry, which has led to more road-rage related incidents, including some that have resulted in murders on Indy’s streets and area highways.

The new initiative underway by IMPD and ISP began in spring and is expected to continue through at least end of summer. Officers and troopers are focusing on city streets and interstates, where law enforcement officials have witnessed an increase in street racing and aggressive drivers.

“Traffic issues have resulted in what I believe is an impact in violent crime in our city,” said IMPD Assistant Chief Chris Bailey.

Back in November, “spinners” and illegal street racers shut down I-465, resulting in a series of crashes, according to ISP. It was when law enforcement began to discuss ways to combat the problem on Indy’s roadways.

Again, in January, ISP was called to I-465 for reports of illegal street racing. According to State Police, cars lined up across multiple lanes of I-465, forcing some drivers to stop near East 56th Street because the interstate was being deliberately blocked by a group of alleged racers.

This incident also caused multiple crashes and injuries to civilians, along with delays, so State Police and Metro Police put together a group of detectives and uniformed officers to do saturation patrols and for those who run from police, work to identify and issue warrants for their arrest.

In the past, IMPD said it has seen spinning groups take over specific areas or parking lots, both public and private, charge for admission, and engage in criminal activity.

“As our officers would respond to these complaints, we found out that these individuals participating would flee from us and we later would discover that majority of these vehicles involved are stolen,” said IMPD Commander of the Special Operations Bureau, Charles DeBlaso.

Many of the meets are organized on social media and police said they tend to spill onto public streets, while some other organizers would just pick a major intersection, meet there and have a contest, said police. They’re working to target the organizers and hosts of these spinning events.

“I can’t stress how dangerous this really is,” said DeBlaso. “We’ve received several videos of these vehicles losing control at these events and actually striking onlookers and causing some serious injuries.”

That doesn’t even account for the damage to nearby telephone poles, signs, and other property when drivers lose control, police said.

Since March, ISP and IMPD have worked together to recover at least 26 stolen vehicles, arrest 26 people, including individuals allegedly involved in murders, crimes like auto theft and possession of stolen property and guns.

At least 17 guns have also been recovered and police have seized marijuana, cocaine and other drugs.

ISP Lieutenant Jeff Hearon said, “We’re pooling our resources together and I think it’s having a great deal of impact.”

Hearon said police worked to meet organizers halfway and ask for their compliance, and though some obliged, many did not, which is why the joint effort was launched.

While IMPD and ISP are also targeting other types of traffic violators on top of illegal street racing, it remains one of their areas they are cracking down on right now, especially because they’re seeing many of these events involve criminal activity, and people and vehicles that are also tied to other crimes.

“A lot of the spinners and stuff, also part of the problem, a lot of them are armed and we’re having a lot of shootings across I-65, I-70 and throughout the city here of Indianapolis,” said Hearon.

Hearon said many of the vehicles involved in these spinning events and other incidents of illegal street racing are high-end vehicles, with some costing upwards of $70,000 to $80,000, and many that are stolen.

“We’re finding out they can go on a car lot or into somebody’s driveway and they can re-program the fobs — the keyless fobs — and they can drive that car. Within two minutes, they have a working key fob,” Hearon explained, also noting this seems to be a big trend they’re seeing.

These illegal gatherings aren’t just happening on interstates, city intersections and parking lots of businesses, police said, they’re also happening in parking lots of places like Riverside Park.

Just last weekend, ISP, IMPD and Park Rangers responded after police said a group was hosting a spinning event feet from where young children and families were at the park.

“We ended up arresting seven people, we had several stolen cars, recovered several guns, including a fully-suppressed MAC-10,” said Hearon.

Through the coordinated efforts and monthly meetings, the agencies said they’ve been able to make significant progress and will look to continue doing so, while asking the public to also do their part in putting a stop to illegal activity endangering others on the roadways.

“We need you to help us. Do better, be better and drive better,” said Bailey.

Officers and troopers have also issued thousands of citations and warnings across the city and state roadways for traffic violations since the start of 2022.

Citations and warnings issued by IMPD, State Police this year

For the period of January 1, 2022 through May 31, 2022 IMPD has written 15,667 total tickets, with 22,784 total offenses. Multiple offenses can be written on the same ticket, police said.

To break this down, more than 87% of offenses were uniform traffic tickets, while just over 12% were written warnings.

For the same time period, in Marion County, State Police have written 6,935 citations and 7,866 warnings for a total of 14,801.

Indy residents can also submit traffic complaints, including speeding, hazardous driving, illegal turns, drivers running red lights, not obeying traffic signs or running red lights, by visiting this link.

Ramping up existing efforts across Indianapolis

This new initiative is in addition to IMPD’s already existing district-by-district efforts to target reckless driving through directed patrols in hotspots across Indianapolis. With each district having its own areas that attract reckless drivers, including street racers and speeders, IMPD said it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

“While decreasing violence continues to be at the top of our list, we must be responsive to our community when they tell us to do something, and that’s what we’re doing,” said Bailey.

IMPD is working to increase traffic enforcement efforts through money in its operating budget, grant funding from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI) and through American Rescue Plan dollars.

“Our community is demanding their police department do more when it comes to traffic enforcement and reckless and distracted driving,” Bailey said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that while Americans drove significantly less in 2020 due to the pandemic, nationwide, there was still a 7.2% increase in traffic fatalities reported compared to the year before.

The State of Indiana and Marion County were not exempt from those numbers. Data shows, the number of traffic fatalities increased by about 8%, outpacing the national increase. In Marion County, the number of traffic fatalities spiked by 31%.

In addition to the partnership, IMPD is also working to invest in tools and technology, including hand-held speed detection equipment, more license plate readers and public safety cameras, on top of the district-level approach with proactive and stationary patrols in hotspots.

One of the significant points of concern has long remained the 38th Street corridor, which runs east to west through Indianapolis, and sees drivers engaging in racing and reckless drivers on the roadways. Last year, IMPD North District put together a plan called ‘Operation Slow Down,” deploying officers on overtime to focus specifically on traffic enforcement.

“That really had a meaningful impact on reckless driving across Indianapolis,” said City County Councillor John Barth.

Through conversations with community groups in the Butler-Tarkington and Crown Hill neighborhoods plus residents across the district, Barth said they’ve continuously been made aware of the concerns over speeding, racing and reckless driving and have worked to address them in partnership with law enforcement.

“Residents are very concerned with their safety. I have constituents who tell me they refuse to drive on 38th Street,” said Barth.

Just days ago, the City-County Council passed Proposal 175, updating the City’s ‘Complete Streets’ Ordinance, which enhances transparency in the planning, design and construction process for local streets, calls for increased accountability and establishes a Fatal Crash Review Team. Still, Barth said, what they’re seeing is a “right now” issue and he is glad it’s being addressed.

Danita Hoskin, a resident of the Crown Hill Neighborhood and president of the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association, agrees.

“What happens in one community, truly affects all communities,” she said. “We meet monthly, we have crime and safety meetings that also meet and hear this same information.”

“It’s important that 38th Street is treated as though it’s a street in a neighborhood and not used as a drag strip,” said Hoskin. “In our research, we’ve learned that 120 pedestrians have been hit in the last 10 years. That works out to be one a month for 10 years and that is entirely too many.”

While 38th Street is notoriously a hotspot for reckless driving, it’s not the only one. Other districts take their individual approaches to combatting these behaviors on the roads, including Southeast District, where speeding has been a major problem on Madison Avenue and East Street for decades.

Lieutenant Daniel Green oversees ‘Operation Red Flag,’ an officer-led initiative, which has been underway for the last approximately four years in the district, working to target drag racers and reckless drivers.

“What’s really been good this year is our intelligence side of it, where we’re tracking plates and speeders. We’re not chasing them, we’re not engaging them, because what they want us to is they do that, they put the video on YouTube, get a bunch of followers and get sponsored,” said Green.

Instead, officers are able identify those individuals, obtain a warrant and show up later to impound vehicles. They’ve also focused on sweeping lots, getting trespass agreements with businesses in the area to disallow for car meet ups and are focused on cracking down on speeding and impaired driving.

“This is where you kind of have to thread the needle on these things. There’s an 18 to 22-year-old crowd that like to park their cars on the lot, drink energy drinks and pop their hoods,” said Green, who agrees their officers are fine with that as long as the place they’re meeting allows for it and they follow the laws.

Overall, through this, Green said they’ve seen success, including a decrease in serious accident numbers, and plan to continue building on this.