Every day, about 20 Florida police cars crash into something: another vehicle, a person, a utility pole. Every year, those crashes kill 20 people, hurt 2,400 others and cause $25 million in property damage, an Orlando Sentinel investigation has found.

The Sentinel analyzed five years of Florida vehicle-crash data — 1.6 million crashes — to determine how often Florida law-enforcement officers crash while in department vehicles and how often they're at fault.

About 7,400 crashes a year involve cops. In one out of every four, they're at least partially to blame, and they seldom are ticketed, the data revealed.

In fact, though average drivers receive citations if they are at fault in crashes more than 64 percent of the time, officers are cited less than 11 percent of the time.

"We're in the public-safety business, and ... I think we need to get a handle on it and have an understanding of what's causing these crashes," said Paul Sireci, president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association and chief of the Tampa International Airport Police Department.

After being briefed by the Sentinel on its findings, Sireci persuaded his group to launch a study of the problem, in partnership with the Florida Highway Patrol, he said last week.

The crashes in which officers are at least partially to blame are usually preventable, the data show. Cops drive too fast. They look at their on-board computers while on the road, but mostly they drive carelessly, individual crash investigators concluded.

The Sentinel investigation looked at all Florida crashes from 2006 through 2010 that involved agency-owned vehicles and found:

•One out of every 44 crashes in Florida — or an average of nearly 7,400 a year — involved a law-enforcement vehicle.

•Most cop crashes happen while officers are simply driving — not while they're chasing someone or racing to an emergency with lights and sirens deployed.

•Many officers crash repeatedly. In fact, 26 officers had tallied four or more crashes in that time period.

•The associated costs are staggering. During the five-year period, crashes involving officers caused more than $126 million in property damage. That doesn't include medical expenses or legal claims paid to people who were hurt or the families of those killed.

The human toll is more difficult to tally.

Teen's tragedy

Erskin Bell Jr. was stopped at a red light on Maitland Boulevard in November 2008 when Altamonte Springs police Officer Mark Maupin plowed into his car at 104 mph.

Bell was studying to become an air-traffic controller at Miami Dade College. Now, the 23-year-old cannot walk, talk or hold up his head.

He requires around-the-clock nursing care and spends much of his day in a hospital bed in the front room of his family's Ocoee home or in a wheelchair.

He responds to a few commands: He'll open his mouth to have his teeth brushed and unclench his fists when his stepmother asks him to relax. And he smiles when friends visit.

Maupin, who was also seriously injured, later told investigators he could not remember what happened. He was not on a call and not in his patrol zone. The Sentinel could not reach him for comment.