There you sit at your second roll call — Starbucks — lamenting about how all the Motor units are off on a “training ride.” Suddenly, you hear dispatch calling you and your stomach drops. It’s a collision you have to respond to, and worse yet, document. Damn.

Worry not, dear beat officer: we’ve got you covered! If bodies litter the roadway, rest assured the experts will be forced to postpone their training ride; however, if it’s just a fender bender or minor-injury crash, just follow these simple steps and you’ll see how easy it is to document a collision.

First Things First

First up is scene security. If it’s a minor crash and the cars are drivable, get ‘em out of the road. Snap a few quick photos first, but get them moved — it’s safer for everyone involved. If the cars aren’t drivable, either lay a flare pattern or see if the hose jockeys in the BRT (Big Red Truck) can assist. A word of caution, though: you’re scene commander, so show the fire guys where you want them so they don’t park directly atop evidence. Additionally, order tow trucks right away, by the time they get there you’ll be just about finished with the scene.

Next, identify and interview the people involved, and any lay witnesses. It’s critical to identify all passengers; I guarantee you if you miss one, he’ll complain of pain the next day after realizing it’s worth money. Keep everyone separated so they don’t compare stories. Each person will have seen or heard something slightly different than the others.

If possible, interview lay witnesses first because they’re usually in a rush to get going, and it shows you appreciate them for getting involved. If they must leave before you can get a statement, get good contact info and call them later. Ask witnesses where they were when the collision occurred. Quite often, they’ll say they “heard” the crash, and then either looked toward the sound or ran outside to look. While they aren’t a witness in the truest sense of the word, they may be your only independent witness who can tell you, say, who had the green light — and who didn’t. Don’t discount these witnesses.

When taking driver statements, make sure they tell you what was happening before the collision: What direction were they going? Which roadway were they on, and in what lane? Were traffic controls (lights or signs) present, and were they functioning/visible? Were they distracted, i.e. on the cell, messing with the stereo or their cigarettes, maybe yelling at the kids? What was the condition of the road? Was the sun in their eyes?
Just like crime reports, we’re trying to answer five simple questions — who, what, how, why and where. It really isn’t any more difficult than that.
By Jason Hoschouer