Why Is Collision Investigation Important?

This is an excerpt from my new book Is Traffic Available? The Patrol Officer’s Guide To Collision Investigation

A crash could be a life-altering event for you, a friend or someone you love. When a crash happens, people look to us, the police, for help. People don’t care if you like traffic accident reports or not. They don’t care if you’ve taken a thousand crashes in your career or if this was your tenth. They just want your help. 

The collision report is more than just the event that took place on that day or night because what we do affects people’s lives. This is why we, the accident investigators, need to take pride in what we do and how we do it.

Some things in police work aren’t sexy and in the opinion of most, traffic accident reports are at the same level of going to the dentist. Ask patrol cops and they’ll tell you they’d rather take a domestic violence report than a collision report.

What scares cops so much about crashes? Is it the measurements, the diagram or is it the fear of the unknown? Is it the feeling of not knowing where to start on a five-car DUI roll-over crash at 2AM or is it because you’re out of your comfort level?

Well, I used to be one of those guys because I didn’t know what to do or where to start. I only had one ten-hour shift of traffic training during FTO and I only took report that day.  I can vividly remember being dispatched to a roll-over crash at 2:37AM (I was off at 3AM) and the dread I felt. When I arrived, I saw a downed light pole, two downed palm trees and a crashed car with a male in the backseat whose head was twisted in a weird angle. 

It was like a bomb exploded with tree parts and jagged concrete pieces from the light pole strewn about the street. Talk about feeling alone because the fire department wasn’t there yet.  I was screwed big time. How was I going to measure this? Where was I supposed to start? How was I going to draw the diagram? Where were the graveyard units!

Then it happened. There was bright light that made me squint and turn my head as I raised a hand to shield my eyes. Was it proof of life in a far-off galaxy, or was it a secret weapon designed by the military? No, it was the Traffic Guy and he walked with the swagger of a gunslinger in the Old West and the sound of his spurs clicking on the asphalt. He stopped, took in the scene and said, “I got it.”

I stood there with my mouth wide open and wondered, “How?”  I took a step back and watched as he worked his traffic magic like an artist painting a masterpiece or Beethoven conducting the 9th Symphony.

This might be a bit exaggerated, but it’s not that far from the truth. I was scared of crashes and I truly had no idea where to start that night. I felt helpless, which was not a good thing if you’re a cop. As police officers we’re supposed to know all the answers because we’re problem solvers. We’re finger pointers, not thumb suckers.

Well, at that moment I was thumb sucker just like some cops are when it comes to the world of traffic investigation. It’s not to put them down. It’s just a fact. Traffic investigation is mysterious to some and hated by others. It is also known as the best kept secret by those who work it.

In conclusion, traffic collisions might not be your cup of tea, but they’re part of the job, so let’s make the best of the situation and investigate them with the same enthusiasm as the “real” crimes.

What is Delaying and Obstructing?


California Penal Code Section 148
148. (a) (1) Every person who willfully resists, delays, or
obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical
technician, as defined in Division 2.5 (commencing with Section 1797)
of the Health and Safety Code, in the discharge or attempt to
discharge any duty of his or her office or employment, when no other
punishment is prescribed, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding
one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail
not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

V C Section 2800 Compliance with Peace Officer Orders
2800. (a) It is unlawful to willfully fail or refuse to comply with a lawful order, signal, or direction of a peace officer, as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2 of the Penal Code, when that peace officer is in uniform and is performing duties pursuant to any of the provisions of this code, or to refuse to submit to a lawful inspection pursuant to this code.

I hardly ever watch videos on Facebook that are police related. That’s because of the ignorance of those involved in lot of the videos. It just plain frustrates me when I see some knucklehead acting dumb on a video claiming to know what he’s talking about.

It then frustrates me even more to know there are people watching the same video, who are getting the wrong information because they’re also misinformed.

So, like I said, I usually skip videos all together because I have better things to do on the phone, like playing a game.

Well, today I didn’t follow my own advice and I watched one. I knew I should’ve just moved on to something else, but for some reason I clicked on it. The video showed a guy, who was clearly being difficult on purpose during a car stop.

During the video the officer said he was “giving a lawful order,” which of course, the suspect didn’t comply with. This went on for quite some time before he was taken into custody.

It got me wondering if people knew it was against the law to disobey “a lawful order.”

I also wondered how many people knew it was against the law to delay, obstruct or resist an officer.

Now, let me start by saying most people at work are law abiding citizens, who comply with my directions and request the first time I ask. I hardly ever have to ask twice because most people understand I’m in the middle of an investigation and they’re in the way.

So, this brings me to the two laws I copied and pasted at the top.

Let’s look at 148a of the California Penal Code first. “Every person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any public officer, peace officer.”

Now, most people aren’t going to fight with the cops because they know they’re going to jail afterward. Everyone knows fighting or running from the cops falls under the “RESIST” part of the law.

How about the delaying or obstructing part of 148aPC?

There’s misinformation out there or ignorance as to what delaying or obstructing is. If I can’t do my job like the other 99.9% of the time because you’re in the way or causing me to get distracted from what I’m doing, then you fall in the delaying and obstructing category.

If I tell you to do something over and over again, but you refuse, then you fall into the delaying and obstructing category also.

All that has to be proven in court is a person was willfully doing it. In other words, you’re doing it on purpose after I told you to stop or to move.

It amazes me to see the hurt and upset looks I get when I have to change the tone in my voice because someone didn’t get it the first couple of times. They look at me like I did something wrong.

The reality is I want to finish my call and move on to the next with as little conflict as possible. It’s just easier that way for everyone. Why would I want to be there any longer than I had to if there were going to be problems?

Let’s also look at 2800(a) of the California Vehicle Code.

It is unlawful to willfully fail or refuse to comply with a lawful order, signal, or direction of a peace officer…..

This seems pretty simple too.

If an officer asks you to do something and you don’t do it, then he or she is going to tell you to do it. At that point it’s an order. If you hear the words, “I’m giving you a lawful order,” then you’re about to go to jail. Anything other than complying is being done on purpose because you’ve already been put on notice.

When you look at it this way it should be pretty simple. Just let the officer do his or her job and listen to the instructions.

If the officer stops you while you’re driving and asks for your license, then guess what? You need to give up your license on the first request. Not after ten times. Any normal and reasonable person can see that this is delaying and obstructing. Especially if the officer is standing in traffic at the driver’s door.

I could go on and on with examples, but it’s a pretty simple rule to follow.

So, the next time you watch a video on Facebook and you hear the officer tell someone to do something ten times, then you know that person is breaking the law by delaying or obstructing. That person had control of their destiny by listening and following the directions the first time, but they refused to.

There’s no way a person can say, “The cops grabbed him for no reason,” or “He didn’t do anything wrong.” Yes they did.

We don’t want to fight or argue with you. We just want to get the call done and move on to the next one to help someone else.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense.

Calling 911 can ruin your drug business



Don’t be a drug dealer and call 911

Back in late 1995 or early 1996, I was dispatched to another 911 call at a small apartment complex I had never been to before. It seemed like it was going to be the typical hang up call where someone was either playing with the phone or dialed 911 by accident. Whenever a 911 call is received, dispatch will call the number back to see what the problem was. If there’s no answer then officers will have to be sent out. On this particular day there was no answer on recall. I figured I would be done with this call in one minute tops.

A Caucasian male in his twenties opened the door just a crack. Not like most people do when they open the door wide open. This was just enough to see his face and nothing else inside the apartment from where I was standing. I told him the reason we were there and that we needed to go in and make sure there was no one injured inside. The man seemed a little hesitant at first, but he backed away from the door as he opened it for us.

I noticed he was wearing boxer shorts and he was holding a pair of jeans in his hand. Maybe he was just being shy when he had opened the door. Since we still didn’t know what we had on this call yet, I told the man to give me his pants because I wanted to check them for weapons. I then found a large knife in a sheath that was attached to the belt. I didn’t give him his pants back and had him sit down.

From where I was standing, I scanned the apartment interior. It was the typical small apartment I was used to going into. A small kitchen was to my left with very old and stained counter tiles and dirty grout. A couch, chair and coffee table were in the front room where we were standing. This room was a little messy, but I had seen worse. There was a hallway between the front room and the kitchen, which lead to the bedroom. The room was dark and the window blinds were closed.

I looked down at the coffee table and saw two scales in plain view. They were three beam scales, which is not something you see every day unless you’re watching Miami Vice or in the police evidence room. I then saw small plastic zip lock bags on the table next to the scales. These particular bags were smaller than sandwich bags and are used to package methamphetamine to sell. I looked even closer and there were small bits of marijuana crumbs all over the table next to the scales. Of course, the one gallon zip lock bag full of marijuana sitting there on the table didn’t look out of place.

I looked over at the male and asked him why he had the scales. The male hesitated as he was trying to figure out damage control. He then said, “I collect them.” That was the best he could do? Now, I was starting to think this wasn’t the smartest drug dealer in the world. He could’ve at least tried to say, “Those aren’t my scales.”

This call was a done deal for me and it was time to handcuff him to go to jail. I told him to stand up and turn around, which he did. I noticed that one hand was open, but the other was balled into a fist. I told him to put his hands together, but he wouldn’t. After a few seconds he revealed a large rock of meth that he had been holding. Who opens the door for the police while holding a rock of meth in their hand?

There was no one else in the apartment and I learned that he had just had an argument with his girlfriend today and she had left right before we arrived. I’m pretty sure she had the last laugh on that one!

Never upset your girlfriend when you’re a drug dealer.