BISMARCK — North Dakota law enforcement agencies dealing with vehicles fleeing from traffic stops or similar situations can now get help from above, thanks to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
The patrol keeps a plane available in Bismarck 24 hours a day, seven days a week that law enforcement agencies around the state can call on when needed for things like suspects that flee from authorities.
Sometimes, the plane is called upon to be ready when an agency knows it will be conducting traffic stops so it can assist when a driver decides to flee the scene.
That's what happened the evening of Oct. 5, when the plane was used to monitor traffic stops conducted by the Bismarck Police Department.
In one instance, a Bismarck officer tried to stop a motorcycle for a traffic violation and the driver of the motorcycle sped off.
Because of safety considerations, the officer chose not to pursue.
However, the Highway Patrol's fixed-wing aircraft that was monitoring the traffic stop followed the motorcycle to a rural Bismarck residence.
Officers later arrived at the residence and identified the driver of the motorcycle as a 16-year-old male.
The teen has been referred to juvenile court for fleeing a police officer and reckless endangerment/extreme indifference, according to information provided by the Highway Patrol.
While the plane has been used in pre-planned enforcement actions like the one conducted by Bismarck police earlier this month, it can also be sent aloft on short notice, according to Highway Patrol Sgt. Wade Kadrmas.
"There have been instances where a law enforcement agency has gotten into a pursuit and there has been enough time where we can call out the pilot and get him in the area to help," Kadrmas said.
"There are some pursuits that could last an hour or so, depending on where they come from," he added.
In July, a resident of the Gardner area called for help from the Cass County Sheriff's Office after a suspicious person entered a trailer on the caller's property and later fled into a cornfield.
Deputies set up a perimeter to contain the suspect in the field and a drone was put in the air to help locate the individual.
In addition, the sheriff's office received backup from the Highway Patrol's airplane, which is a Cessna T206H Stationair.
Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner said in any situation where it's unclear where a suspect is or where a potential threat may lurk it is always better to have a drone or a plane in the sky to provide a clearer picture of what an officer may be facing.
"If there's difficult areas where we can't immediately see things and there's a better vantage point from the air, we'd definitely want to use that tool," Jahner said.
Jessica Schindeldecker, public information officer for the Fargo Police Department, said the department currently doesn't have any planned uses for the Highway Patrol plane, but she said if they see a need in the future they may request assistance.
"We have a great working relationship with the NDHP and will continue going forward," she said.
According to the Highway Patrol, the number of incidents involving drivers that flee law enforcement has been rising.
From the start of the year through early October, the Highway Patrol has been involved in 72 pursuits statewide, according to the agency, which stressed that drivers who flee place themselves and other motorists, as well as pedestrians, in danger.
Resources like the Highway Patrol's airplane, he said, "allow law enforcement to more effectively apprehend suspects that flee and result in enhanced safety to the public."