Originally published Nov. 22, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a feeling you may have experienced, seeing those blue lights in your rearview mirror as the police pull you over. But lately, thousands of drivers are refusing to stop. Figures show that happening more than 3,100 times last year. New research looks into what’s behind the uptick.

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Priscillia Roberts commutes from Bloomington to North Minneapolis for work, and lately getting there has been a job.

“You can’t really peg a time, like rush hour or something like that. (It) just kind of seems to be the norm now to go that fast,” she said.

So-called “super speeding” is way up in Minnesota. The Minnesota State Patrol is regularly clocking speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. Fatalities are up too, and there’s something else making the roads risky.

“People are fleeing from police at a rate we’ve never seen before,” Col. Matt Langer said. “This is a huge, huge problem nationwide; it’s not just a Minnesota-specific problem.”

Langer is the state’s top road safety official, and he feels the weight of this treacherous trend.

“Twenty-three years ago when I was working the road, a pursuit was an oddity,” he said. “Today, its not uncommon to have two, three in the metro a day.”

Data from the Eden Prairie Police Department shows 14 people took off during traffic stops last year. This year, at least 40 drivers have made a run for it.

It’s happening in Hopkins, too.

(credit: MN State Patrol)

“People are being more aggressive and they are fleeing stops. We’ve definitely seen an increase in it,” Hopkins Sgt. Michael Glassberg said.

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In Eagan, they’re seeing the trend as well.

“It used to be very shocking if someone was fleeing in a car. Now, it’s like, ‘OK, they’re fleeing.’ It’s normalized,” Eagan officer Aaron Machtemes said.

The trend is clearly shown in data. So why aren’t people pulling over? WCCO went in search of the answer here at the University of Minnesota campus, where Dr. Nichole Morris is helping lead a research study on the psychology of why people are not pulling over.

In the wake of the deaths of Philando Castile and George Floyd, we asked if police distrust was a factor.

“Certainly there is a stress and fear response when people are being pulled over by the police,” Morris said. “But often what we see in the data is that they are fleeing to avoid a greater charge.”

The data show the drivers who take off are primarily in stolen cars, are wanted for assault or have warrants, and feel they have nothing to lose.

“So its not so much a decision to flee or not flee, but get caught or not get caught. So they are making a calculated choice to flee to try and avoid a greater charge,” Morris said.

One thing not shown in most videos — just because the drivers take off, it doesn’t mean they’re getting away. The Minnesota State Patrol is looking for getaway drivers by air and other new technologies, and trying to start making more people stop.

“There’s no question that police pursuits are dangerous to everybody involved. They are dangerous to the people fleeing, the officer involved and the general public,” Langer said. “We need to dig into it, as a state, as a profession.”

About two years ago, most metropolitan agencies rolled back their pursuit policies. Several officers told WCCO that, unless it’s a serious crime, they choose not to pursue those who drive off. They are turning toward that new technology to catch drivers without having to chase them.

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Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield