MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – From being struck on traffic stops to dangerous chases, the Minnesota State Patrol logged nearly 300 damaged cruisers last year.

A WCCO investigation looked at what can happen on the road in the course of a year.

In a job where there is nothing routine, it’s impossible for Minnesota state troopers to predict how a traffic stop will end.

But when they do end, we found they leave behind trips to the hospital, hundreds of crunched squad cars and piles of paperwork.

WCCO examined reports of all squad damage from last year.

From cracked windshields and bumpers to dented doors and trunks, a total of 288 patrol vehicles sustained damage in 2014.

Lieutenant Robert Zak is the State Patrol’s Fleet Management Director.

“If there’s damage to the car, I’ll see the report,” Zak said.

A trooper for 14 years, he knows how a squad serves as an office.

“You’re going to be driving a lot,” he said.

The state’s 550 troopers spend eight to ten hours in their squads each day and put on 18 million miles a year.

“In that amount of mileage out on the road things are going to happen,” Zak said.

WCCO found the largest number of crashes last year were caused by Minnesota’s weather and wildlife.  Thirty-five squads collided with deer.  Pheasant, turkey and even a bear also caused crashes.

Snow, rain and hail also lead to dozens of damage reports.  Squads were slammed into several times on icy roads.

“The biggest things are being inattentive and driving too fast for conditions,” Zak said.

Twenty-eight vehicles had damage after performing a pursuit intervention technique, called a PIT.  The point is to get the vehicle off the road and arrest the driver.

In one case, that driver had been drinking.

WCCO also found troopers making mistakes.  Last year, the State Patrol classified 75 crashes as preventable. Most are minor, squads backing into other cars in a parking lot, hitting a fence or utility pole, but they can be more serious.

In LeSuer County, a trooper made a U-turn into a passing car, sending the driver and passenger to the hospital.

On July 4 last year, a Cannon Falls couple was killed when they pulled out in front of a trooper responding to another crash.  That trooper suffered serious injuries and months later was charged with manslaughter and failure to drive with due care.

It’s an incident, that, right now, the State Patrol can’t talk about by law, but they did say all squad damage is reviewed twice a month by a committee of three.

Lt. Tiffani Nielson is the Minnesota State Patrol Public Information Officer.

“It’s a way for us to look at it internally. Are there any training deficiencies? Is there anything we could have done differently to prevent it from happening in the future,” Nielson said.  “We do not want to be involved in any crash. We want to set the example for the public.”

The example in a career where no two days are the same and one in which Zak is convinced there is no such thing as an accident.

“An accident is a tree falling on your car or the earth opening up. That would be an accident,” Zak said.

Troopers spend a full week of their training on driving techniques.

WCCO found many drivers squad lights as a contributing reason for why they crashed into a squad last year. Drivers said they were too bright so they couldn’t tell exactly where the squad was on the road at night.

The State Patrol has installed slower flash patterns with a dimmer option on new squads. Some studies have suggested they have a more calming effect on drivers and when troopers are pulled over drivers are able to better see where they are.

Liz Collin

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