Police departments, large and small, are experiencing a crisis in staffing. Officers are retiring or leaving the profession, and recruitment of new officers is very difficult. Departments are down from 10-30%, resulting in slow responses to calls for service (or no in-person response for lower level crimes). Sometimes police detectives or other officers not usually used for calls for service must respond to calls and forego their primary duties. Public safety is compromised. Citizens cannot receive the service they expect from the police.
Using trained civilians to respond to minor accidents frees up sworn police officers to respond more quickly to higher priority calls for service. Civilian traffic crash investigators are not police officers and do not replace existing police officers. They supplement and leverage the effectiveness of the existing police force.
They cannot issue citations or arrest people. They do not wear a police uniform, wear a badge, or carry a weapon. They wear distinctive uniforms and clear identification as civilians. Their exclusive role is to file an accident report on a non-injury, no-citation accident. They receive several weeks of training in consultation with the N.C. Justice Academy, have no serious criminal history, and pass a drug test.
Authorizing all cities to have the option of using civilian traffic crash investigators will benefit the public by allowing sworn police officers to respond to higher-priority calls faster and help insure that when someone calls the police, a police officer is available instead of being tied up for 1-2 hours on a minor traffic accident.
Since 2006 and 2007 respectively, the cities of Fayetteville and Wilmington have had local acts of the legislature to employ trained civilians to respond to minor accidents not involving any injury or issuance of citations. Thousands of minor accidents have been handled by civilians in those cities with no known complaints or problems (approximately 2,000 per year in the last two years in Wilmington, about 30% of all accidents). This has saved thousands of hours of sworn police officers’ time to respond to higher priority calls quickly. These programs demonstrate the effectiveness and public acceptance of civilian traffic crash investigators.
In the current environment of increased crime and police officer shortages, allowing cities to maximize the quality of police service by using civilians to respond to minor traffic accidents is a good idea.