LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - They flip on the blue lights when you're driving erratically, but how safe are Louisville Metro Police officers behind the wheel? There are some surprising statistics that show when it comes to cruiser collisions, the other driver isn't always at fault.
It was like something out of a movie.
"I've never heard or seen anything like it in my life," witness Jessie Cundiff said shortly after the August 14 accident.
A Louisville Metro police officer lost control of their cruiser trying to avoid a pickup that pulled into his path in Highview and careened out of control, driving right into the front of a house.
Incredibly, no one was injured.
"That's one of the maneuvers that we train officers," said Major Kevin Greenwood, LMPD Training Commander, "That if something happens, how do you get around that?"
Getting around an accident is what Major Greenwood expects his officers to do even when the other driver is to blame. That was often the case in two dozen LMPD dash cam videos reviewed between 2010-2012.
In one video from December of 2010, an officer is T-boned when he tries to make a U-turn to pull someone over, despite activating his flashing lights. In another, a high speed chase ends with the suspect taking a hard left and taking a cruiser out with him. The suspect then flees the driver seat, not sticking around to survey the damage.
Numbers provided by LMPD using open records requests revealed scenes like that are relatively rare. There have been 416 LMPD accidents since 2010. That's 10 percent of the department's fleet or an accident every 211,000 miles.
Major Greenwood was non-committal about whether he was proud of that record.
"That's kind of hard to answer," he said. "Because I've seen how many accidents we have, and really, one's too many."
Major Greenwood was especially bothered by dash cam video that showed officers rear ending other cars. Backing up into other cruisers. Or just plain losing control of their vehicles, in one case driving off the road into brush. In another, spinning out and hitting a telephone poll.
In all, 40 percent LMPD cruiser crashes since 2010 were ruled the officers fault.
"And I wish it was less quite honestly," Major Greenwood said. "I would love for that number to be zero."
The repair bill is far from zero. Records show taxpayers shelled out $955,772 to fix damaged cruisers over the past three years at the city garage on Newburg Road.
For Louisville Metro Police officers distracted driving is part of the job. Inside cruisers police have radios and police computers that they are often required to use while they are driving. Sometimes, mistakes happen.
"There's a lot of things going on," Major Greenwood said, adding using the technology and paying attention to the road at the same time, is "difficult."
Major Greenwood said the majority of cruiser crashes are minor although the chances of a more serious accident increase when officers are in pursuit.
"Your heart rate will go up, "Major Greenwood said. "Your breathing, your fine motor skills, you will loose those. And it's human nature."
Major Greenwood said the challenge is finding a way to race and rescue, without wrecking.
"If somebody has been shot or somebody is possibly shooting at the police, a robbery just occurred, those are all instances where officers know that there is that potential for danger," Major Greenwood said. "But we also stress to them you can't fix that problem unless you get there safely."
LMPD officers get 40 hours of driver training before being sworn in and an hour refresher course every year. Officers who are found to be at fault in an accident have to take an 8 hour remedial driver course, although officers involved in the most serious wrecks are subject to additional discipline from the department's accident review board.
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725 S. Floyd Street
Louisville, KY 40203