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.