Capital Region News
12:59 pm
Fri February 28, 2014

Should Police Respond To Non-Injury Fender Benders?

Albany Police Chief Steve Krokoff
Albany Police Chief Steve Krokoff
Credit City of Albany

Some U.S. cities have stopped sending police officers to investigate fender-bender car accidents. The novel approach to dealing with crashes may crash and burn before it sees the light of day in New York.

Las Vegas is the latest city to opt to keep officers enforcing the law instead of writing accident reports. As of March 3rd, Sin City police will no longer respond to property damage collisions. Officials defend the move: they say that the average minor property damage call takes 96 minutes to process, time police officers could be patrolling the streets, enforcing traffic laws, and keeping the peace.

They're counting on drivers to take the responsibility to react calmly, exchange insurance information, and use their smartphones to take pictures before moving the vehicles safely out of traffic.  Police explain that under Nevada statute, a police report isn’t required, so properly documenting property damage will help the insurance adjuster sort out who is at fault.

Attorney Doug Rose, a partner with the law firm Tully Rinckey, explains as it is now written, New York law would not allow a procedure like this.  "Under the vehicle and traffic law, the police are required to respond an file an MV-104a, which the police report of a motor vehicle accident."

Las Vegas motorists will be required to download, print and complete a form called an SR-1 report and file it with authorities within 10 days of the accident. 

Albany Police Chief Steven Krokoff is cool to the idea of eliminating officer intervention.   "I guess I would have to see how that played out. Now just to switch hats for a second, as a community member, and I was involved in an accident I don't know how pleased I would be with the police not investigating the accident, especially if I were the one not at fault."

Vegas police will only show up if there is serious bodily injury. If a vehicle has to be towed, an officer will be dispatched "to provide protection."  Attorney Rose says post-accident police presence assures forensics will be professionally gathered and catalogued.  "We've relied on the police report to show the indifferent observer: what did the police offer see? Police officers have been trained in accident-scene forensics, so they know what to look for, they know what to photograph, they know what to measure. There is a certain indicia of credibility behind the police report, but does it change the dynamic for civil litigation? Not a whole lot."

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan
Credit Kathy Sheehan

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan thinks the Las Vegas plan would never fly here.   "The issue in New York I believe is that for people to get insurance claims there has to be a report of the accident, you know every state is a little bit different."

Chief Krokoff believes accidents are inextricably tied to public safety and the Las Vegas scenario is outside the realm of Albany police procedure.   "I'd like to see how Las Vegas is doing it and if there are benefits to the community by the police NOT being involved with that, then I guess we have to look at it, but I can't think of a benefit the community would be able to achieve by not having officers investigate accidents."

With a hefty budget gap to bridge, Mayor Sheehan is looking at more mainstream methods to save money while improving public service to the community. "We're looking at how do we do pre-arrest diversion, how do we do a better job in dealing with some of the social problems that our police end up having to deal with and often time sour firefighters end up dealing with, and we could be better on the front end providing addiction services, mental health services... That's an area that the transition team that looked at public safety took a real hard look at and made recommendations on. I think that's a real opportunity for us to not only have better end results but to ultimately have a better utilization of our resources."

CNN reports Las Vegas joins San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles in lifting the requirement that police investigate fender-benders.

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