SKILL SET, MINDSET, and ACCOUNTABILITY In Crash Investigation

SKILL SET, MINDSET, and ACCOUNTABILITY In Crash InvestigationHow many times have you heard, “…but they hit me!?” or “Why am I getting a ticket? It wasn’t my fault.” Did you feel the need to answer these questions directly?

If so, where you able to suitably resolv the concern? Did this generate concerns of your own? Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a citation after a collision can express the feelings generated by such an encounter. I always try and wish them a better day when it’s my duty to issue a citation as a result of an investigation. Hopefully, for most people, their days do not get much worse than that.

So, how do we assure we’ve been fair and effective in our crash investigations? May I suggest three ideas to assist in answering this question?

SKILL SET

First, we need a skill set. The majority of this should have been provided to you in the basic academy. Like any other skills we possess, it must be exercised regularly to be fit, and like exercise have some type of improvement over time. This leads me to an invitation. The State of Utah has many free training opportunities for sworn officers to help improve your crash investigation skills. These can often be found in your department, on the Police Officers Standards and Training website, and through local agencies. Remember, we are not widely known for our promotional and advertisement talents, so you may have to do some work to find these. Once you are comfortable with your skill level, develop a system that works for you, and upgrade it occasionally. When it comes to a crash investigation skill set, get one!

MINDSET

Many officers have told me that crash investigation is not their thing. I understand that we as peace officers do so much more than report fender benders. A popular saying from our Colonel Danny Fuhr is, “If not you, then who?” The laws of our State and the policies of our department clearly outline our role when cars and people get damaged. We must be ready to serve by providing an accurate, thorough, and fair investigation and report. I often hear, “…but Sergeant Akers, I don’t always know how the crash happened and I’m not the best at math and equations.” This mindset is limiting and self defeating. Don’t fall victim. My hope is that no one is offended by a statement I use often in my classes to help combat this condition. “If you have two eyes and ten fingers, you understand how physics works in your life, or you do nothing all day.” I understand accidents happen and I do not judge individuals who have had a loss. There are so many dynamic situations we encounter each day. Try walking through a typical teenager’s room! There are usually many hazards to avoid. We would not identify them as hazards without first imagining the consequences of engaging them. Now apply this knowledge and new found courage to vehicles in crashes. Match damage and road or surface marks to movement. Be sure to evaluate your mood and preconceived judgments and be able to justify with evidence your findings.

ACCOUNTABILITY

It is our job to provide this service. I was once involved as a passenger in a crash. Shortly after, I received a call from a famous local attorney’s office advising me of a law suit against me. What went wrong? The officer, who investigated the crash, thought he was fully aware of the details and listed me as a driver. The “contributing” driver at that! It was concluded at the scene that the crash was a shared responsibility, or both drivers made mistakes and no citations were issued. When following up, had I been someone other than a fellow officer, I am not sure if the officer would have been willing to reevaluate the details of the crash and correct the report. Inaccurate reporting and refusing to consider involved party input must not happen! Remember, we do not or can not always see all angles or objects Ask your spouse or mother about the last time you lost something. Take time to add up the facts, compare the statements, match the damage, and take in the totality of the circumstances. This will best assist you to fairly and accurately report what happened.

This may seem time consuming or not in harmony with your current system of investigation and reporting. By learning from experience, I encourage you to improve your skill set, mindset, and accountability in investigating and reporting crashes to save you time and headaches. Time in writing, diagramming, submitting, reevaluating, and civilly revisiting the crashes you have handled. It will save you headaches by never wishing you did a better job or wondering how you missed a certain detail.

I have full confidence in every officer who attends the classes I teach, and in anyone who would take the time to read this to improve their skills and abilities. Now, go out and make a difference by being your best in whatever you do.