In the first nine months of 2016, seven high-speed vehicle pursuits have started in Brown County or passed through from a neighboring county.

In all of last year, there were just two.

Three or four a year is normal, according to Greg Pittman, public information officer for the Brown County Sheriff’s Department and an 11-year veteran of the force.

The increase isn’t just in Brown County, he said.

“Just looking at the news on a daily basis, it seems like resisting law enforcement in general seems to be up nationwide; that’s just my opinion and from talking with people in other agencies,” Pittman said.

Most vehicle pursuits in Brown County begin as traffic stop attempts, he said. For one reason or another, the person decides not to stop.

“Now why they’re doing that can be a lot of different reasons. It can be illegal things in the car, warrants that they know they might have, those are considerations why they’re not going to stop. Or just the fear, I suppose, of a citation,” Pittman said.

“I’ve seen it a few times where there’s nothing else involved other than they just didn’t want to get a citation.”

A pursuit that ended in Brown County last week started as a suspicious-person call.

At about 7 p.m. Sept. 19, Edinburgh police tried to stop a blue-green Subaru. The driver, Thomas Brockman, of 1197 Nelson Ridge Road in Brown County, took off.

Brockman, 43, led Edinburgh officers south on U.S. 31. Bartholomew County sheriff’s deputies, Indiana State Police and an Indiana conservation officer joined the pursuit, which headed toward Brown County on State Road 46.

The chase reached 100 mph at times, deputies said.

Pittman attempted to stop the Subaru on State Road 46 just inside Brown County, but Brockman accelerated, turning onto Hoover Road and then east onto Georgetown Road, the officer said.

Brown and Bartholomew County deputies were waiting at the intersection with Nelson Ridge Road with stop sticks, but Brockman drove into a yard to avoid them and almost struck Pittman’s police vehicle head-on. Then he continued heading west on Georgetown Road, Pittman said.

State police used stop sticks on Georgetown Road and deflated all four tires, but Brockman continued to flee until his engine blew and his vehicle stopped after hitting a guardrail, deputies said. Pittman said the pursuit stopped near North Salem Church on State Road 46.

Brockman ran from the vehicle into the woods, where he was finally arrested, deputies said.

“That ended up very good in the end. Nobody was hurt. He was not hurt. None of the officers were hurt. None of the public was hurt,” Pittman said.

Police said this wasn’t the first time Brockman had fled.

Worth the risk?

Public safety is the No. 1 concern for officers, Pittman said.

“As I was in that pursuit the other night, I’m evaluating, ‘Is this getting too dangerous?’” he said.

“If you know who the person is and it’s getting too dangerous, you can terminate the pursuit and the prosecutor can issue a warrant. That’s always an option.

“You don’t want an innocent person getting hurt, and you don’t want the suspect to get hurt either, no matter what they’ve done.”

Whether to initiate or continue a pursuit all comes down to the officer’s judgment, he said.

“Of course, what is the crime? Is it a simple traffic violation? Is it an armed robbery? Is it a homicide? That makes a difference, too, on how long you’re going to pursue this person and continue the pursuit.

“Regardless of what they’ve done, when it gets too dangerous to the public then you need to terminate it,” he said.

Pursuing motorcycles presents additional challenges.

“On a motorcycle, obviously that person does not have near the protection as if they were in a car,” Pittman said.

“In certain situations, we can’t stay up with some of these motorcycles because they handle better, and they’re fast and they’re light. That’s something you need to think about (as an officer).”

Officer training

New officers undergo a week of emergency vehicle operation training — using lights and sirens during a pursuit or other emergency — while at their 15-week law enforcement academy. They train in a classroom and on the road, Pittman said.

Emergency vehicle operation training is covered in the 24 hours of mandatory training all deputies get each year. A few months ago, Brown County officers trained in a simulator, with a steering wheel and several large screens.

“Some of the things we’ll do in training is we’ll watch videos and we’ll talk and we’ll do scenarios. OK, this is the scenario, watch this video, would you have done the same thing? Would you have done something different? Would you have continued the pursuit?” Pittman said.

If a person is apprehended after a pursuit, officers are trained to respond to it as a felon stop. The officer orders everyone out of the vehicle and onto the ground so they can be placed in handcuffs. Another officer will cover that officer with a drawn weapon, Pittman said.

If a pursuit has to be terminated before a person can be arrested, officers can use vehicle registration information to get a warrant for the driver.

Officers can also contact nearby law enforcement agencies with the vehicle description and license plate in hopes of that suspect being caught, Pittman said.

“If you get in a pursuit and you have nothing but the vehicle description, you just may not be able to track them down if it becomes too dangerous and you have to terminate the pursuit,” he said.

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department will participate in hands-on driving training in the near future related to emergency vehicle operation, Pittman said.

It’s not required; the department is choosing to do it, he said.

Brown County Sheriff's Department pursuit policy

Personnel responding to emergency calls or participating in a pursuit shall engage all emergency lights and sirens when the vehicle is used as an authorized emergency vehicle. Consideration for the risk to the public’s safety is the primary concern when the public personnel is involved in initiating or assisting another agency in any vehicle pursuit. Officers shall use their own discretion within the guidelines of this procedure when initiating or assisting in a pursuit. Involved officers and commanders are to continually evaluate the situation and should terminate the pursuit when the risk to the public’s safety outweighs the need for immediate apprehension.

Source: Greg Pittman, public information officer for the Brown County Sheriff’s Department

Pursuits this year in Brown County

In the first nine months of 2016, seven high-speed vehicle pursuits have started in Brown County or passed through from a neighboring county. Police reported the following:

Jan. 16, 2016: A Brown County sheriff’s deputy attempted to stop Jeffrey Howard, 29, of Trafalgar, on Spearsville Road near Hornettown Road when a license plate check showed Howard was wanted out of Bartholomew County. Howard led police on a chase to Appleworks in Johnson County, then ran from the car on County Road 250. A woman and a 5-month-old baby were in the car. Police did not find him until Jan. 22, when he was driving another car in the area of Ed Harsh Road and Sweetwater Trail. He led police on a second chase before crashing the car on Wells Hill Road and running away. Police found Howard and his two adult passengers after about 10 minutes. He is awaiting trial on charges including possession of drug paraphernalia.

May 10, 2016: Police attempted to stop Lona D. Albertson, 47, of Hoover Road, on Interstate 65 near Whiteland at about midnight. The hourlong chase went through Edinburgh, into Brown County and eventually back into Johnson County. Deputies used stop sticks to deflate the tires of the vehicle, which went off the road and stopped on County Road 250W, just north of the Johnson County line. She was arrested on charges of resisting law enforcement, criminal recklessness and a warrant.

June 17, 2016: Just after midnight, a Brown County sheriff’s deputy attempted to stop a vehicle near the Spearsville church that had no license plate lights. He suspected Arrielle Tomlinson, 31, of Cottonwood Road was driving, and she was wanted on several warrants. Tomlinson stopped and talked with the officer but gave a false name. When the officer said he knew who she was, she took off, leading police on a chase from Hornettown Road to State Road 135, Lick Creek and Cottonwood roads, up to 100 mph. She fled the vehicle on foot. Police found her the next night at a home on Helmsburg Road, where she climbed into an attic in an attempt to escape police. Her charges included possession of methamphetamine, marijuana and paraphernalia.

July 22, 2016: At about 3:15 a.m., Nashville Police Officer Matt Hatchett attempted to stop a truck he suspected had been stolen from a Nashville business. The driver David Warner, 62, of Indianapolis, led him on a chase from State Road 46 to 135 South, then crashed in the first curve. Warner fled on foot and local police did not find him. Police Chief Ben Seastrom said Warner was in possession of two other stolen vehicles when he came to Brown County that day, and was suspected of stealing another in addition to the one he crashed.

July 31, 2016: Just after 11 p.m., a Bartholomew County sheriff’s deputy attempted to stop a silver Jeep that was reported as stolen. The driver, Jeffrey A. Cox, 30, of Franklin, led police on a chase of up 80 mph on State Road 46 into Brown County. Brown County officers joined in as Cox drove through Nashville and north on State Road 135 into Morgan County. Officers found the Jeep in a driveway on State Road 252. Cox’s charges included illegal possession of syringes and driving under the influence.

Aug. 4, 2016: Three Tennessee residents and a 17-year-old were accused of shoplifting 30 to 40 purses from the Michael Kors store at Edinburgh Premium Outlets. At about 8:15 p.m., they fled in a vehicle and led police on a high-speed chase through Bartholomew County into Nashville on State Road 46, past the Brown County State Park gate, at speeds of up to 122 mph. The vehicle turned onto Hawthorne Drive and hit a flower box in the senior apartment parking lot before heading back toward Columbus on State Road 46. Officers from Bartholomew County, Columbus, Nashville, Brown County, state police and conservation officers used stop sticks and other methods to try to stop the car. It finally struck another vehicle at the intersection of state roads 46 and 135 South and went over a steep embankment. The driver who was struck was not injured.

Sept. 19, 2016: At around 7 p.m., police in Edinburgh attempted to stop Thomas Brockman, 43, of Nelson Ridge Road while investigating a suspicious person call. Brockman sped away and officers pursued him through Edinburgh and Bartholomew County before entering Brown County. Edinburgh, Bartholomew County, Brown County, Indiana State Police and a conservation officer were involved in the chase which reached 100 miles per hour. All four tires on Brockman’s vehicle were deflated after he hit stop sticks on Georgetown Road, and he kept going until his engine blew and his vehicle hit a guardrail near North Salem Church on State Road 46. Brockman ran from the vehicle into the woods, where he was arrested. He is accused of fleeing from police at least twice before.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.