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Little Help with Accident Scene Investigation


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  • Little Help with Accident Scene Investigation

    I put this in both "The Squad Room" and "Pennsylvania" forums, because I'd like to get as much feedback as possible, from everyone, and locals.
    I've been on the job for about 3 years now, and would like to get some information on investigating a traffic accident, considering I haven't done one yet. I have asked around within the two departments that I work at. I did receive good information, but I wish I could watch a partner or a felllow officer conduct an accident investigation, that way I don't look incompetent when performing my first accident scene investigation. By the way, we only have usually 1 or 2 guys per shift, so its hard to request for back-up, especially for an accident.
    From what I've been told, and from what I know, when arriving to an accident scene. (I also know every accident scene is going to be different):
    1. Upon approaching, observe scene to determine second action (which vehicle or victim to approach first, etc).
    2. Attend to victim(s), by severity of injuries. Note any injuries after assisting them.
    3. Observe vehicle(s) involved in accident for damage and point(s) of impact. Note damages, deployment of airbags, whether the seat belts were utilized.
    4. Gather all involved vehicle information (registration, insurance, operator information).
    5. Try to determine how the accident occurred by either asking the operators, or walking around and looking at the entire scene (damaged guard rails, signs, property, mailboxes, trees, etc).
    6. Contact towing services, if needed.
    7. Complete multiple page accident report, by either paper or internet.
    Like I said, I know all accidents are different, and im sure I did forget some critical information, so this is just mainly my summary/basic version of a traffic scene investigation.
    I would greatly appreciate any advice or input.

  • #2
    You're making it out to be so much harder than it really is. It isn't that difficult. Also, "only 1-2 guys per shift," you do realize this is much more the norm than the exception in PA police agencies.

    You've got it pretty down as to what you need to do. If the accident is so involved that serious criminal charges will come from it, ask for help, but otherwise just do what you know how to do and figure it out.
    West Chester University B.S. Criminal Justice: May 2009
    Delaware County Community College Municipal Police Academy Class 126: July-Dec 2009
    Full time Patrolman in Chester County, PA.


    • #3
      Considering our jurisdictions, (one township, six boroughs, with multiple high schools, elementary schools, businesses, and miles/times of travel between jurisdictions) I do believe we are somewhat short on patrolmen. As for the subject I posted about, I appreciate your input.


      • #4
        I realize that things might be drastically different where you are so I gotta ask...how have you been on the job three years and not investigated an accident?
        For the cops out there: You are an adult. If you want to write someone, write them. If you don't want to write someone, then don't write them.

        "Jeff, you are the best cop on this board"-Anonymous Post


        • #5
          Well im full time at a Sheriff's Department ( we are not allowed to investigate anything, but we can do traffic stops and such), and I'm also part time (2-4 nights a week) at a Police Department. I just haven't been on a shift when theres been an accident. Now that I mention it, I'll probably have one this weekend.


          • #6
            It seems that every department has their own way of how they handle auto accidents. Some departments are pretty much letting the insurance companies be the investigator and assigning fault. Some departments just don't have the time or resources to handle every traffic accident. What you may want to do as far as the paperwork is ask for a copy of some completed reports to use as a guide. (this is also a good idea for other types of paperwork that you may need to reference to)

            The first thing you always want to do when you come to a scene of an accident is make sure the scene is safe. Well what does that mean? Well is this really an auto accident? You might get a call for an auto accident because that is the way it came it. You might pull up and see a car crashed into another car or a pole. However still enter the scene with caution. You never know if there are live wires (please NEVER try to move live wires or poles-I know people that have....) There could be fumes or fluids. There could be a heavily intoxicated person, a nutcase or someone hiding with a weapon.

            The rest is pretty much observation, documentation and following your department's policy for accidents and reports. Get all the information and make sure you always check that Tag's and VIN's match too. Make sure you get everyone's complete information.

            If you are THAT interested you can check to see if your department has any training videos available or if you can locate some on you own. There is also lots of training and classes. Departments can apply to send people or apply for the grants to be able to send people when the classes or training becomes availale. (just something to keep in mind in the future)

            The first rule is always your safety first. You also can only document what you see and what people state to you. You aren't always going to be able to be "Matlock" on every one. Just write a good report with as much information as you can. Sometimes the insurance companies do what they want anyway in the end.


            • #7
              Ok. Intersting. Just totally different worlds.
              For the cops out there: You are an adult. If you want to write someone, write them. If you don't want to write someone, then don't write them.

              "Jeff, you are the best cop on this board"-Anonymous Post


              • #8
                Baysidegal, thank you for all of your input.
                jeffIL, I agree with you on the totally different worlds part.


                • #9
                  I'll agree with baysidegal, look at traffic accident investigation classes. There might be some internet based classes you can take. Google is a great tool to find some classes that help with LEO stuff. Here's one I found using google.


                  "For weapons training they told me to play DOOM"


                  • #10
                    Don't forget to look for third party witnesses that can tell you what REALLY happened and to identify who was really driving the cars. If the accident happened at a major intersection, watch the traffic lights cycle a couple times to see if the drivers story makes sense. In my experience according to the alot of drivers they both claim to have the right away. EX one claims solid green north-south and the other claims solid green left turn arrow west to south. Thats not possible unless the lights are jacked up. I could go on all day with these. Since you are on a small dept just remember that if there are no injuries, little damage and the stories match up, tell the drivers to move their cars to the side of the road so you don't have 50 angry drivers backed up for a BS accident. I'm sure you will do fine, if you get stuck at some point just make a phone call. Good Luck.


                    • #11
                      Generally, you have all the things you need to do listed. I would however rearrange them.

                      1. As you approach the scene, you should be in data collection mode. Try to see what one of the other drivers may have scene as you approach the impact point. What, if any, environmental impacts are present, sight distance, speed limits, other physical evidence prior to the impact point, etc.

                      2. If you can, lock in who your drivers are. Especially important if you have a possible DUI and there are other passengers in the car.

                      3. Check your scene for witnesses. Get their statements and get them out of there.

                      4. If EMS is already on scene, stand back and don't get in their way. Look for your physical evidence on the roadway. Physical evidence doesn't lie. 95% of my accident investigation is completed through the use of physical evidence. Document pre- and post- impact evidence. This evidence can be very short lived. The evidence eradication teams will make sure of that. Buy yourself a good digital camera and take photos of your scene. (A picture is worth a thousand words.)

                      5. Once EMS is done, then go to your vehicles. Get the information you need. Document vehicle damage and look inside the vehicle. Note driver seat position, seat belt usage (some times the seatbelt pretensioners will lock in the retracted or buckled positions), etc. Photos.

                      6. If operators are still there, interview them. If at hospital, go to hospital.

                      7. Have vehicles towed.

                      8. Everyone's friend, paperwork.

                      PM me if you want anything explained in more detail.


                      • #12
                        If it's a fender bender with no SERIOUS injuries, try to get the vehicles to the side of the road. If it appears more serious, Do not touch anything. Call other units if you have to but shut the road down.

                        Do not allow anyone else to touch anything. I remember just coming to a bike vs car hit and woman has kids bike. Going to take it home to the kid. I went ballistic, she just removed evidence.
                        How the bike was laying, where it was laying and the debris field all got compromised by this do gooder. Don't allow the FD to move vehicles or overturn a vehicle( unless they have to to save a life).

                        If it's serious, find out who is shooting photos. Do not take their photos but approach them. "We may want to take a look at this later", and let them shoot to their hearts content as long as they stay out of the way.

                        Keep watch on the vehicles. That person removing items from the wrecked car would be a friend or family member or they could be a thief.

                        Make certain the tow company puts down oil dry.

                        WEAR A TRAFFIC VEST. If you have the man power, put up early warning for accident ahead to avoid a secondary incident. If the road will be closed notify your local media for traffic reports.

                        see a tractor trailer? Ask if he has a CB. Ask him to make announcements about the wreck which will keep 18 wheeler traffic out of your way.


                        • #13
                          Your first priority is to the saftey of all at the scene and all approaching the scene not data collection. To hell with the evidence if I can save a life or prevent another collision.

                          Your second priority is evidence preservation.

                          If you are over your head, do not be afraid to call for assistance.
                          Pete Malloy, "The only thing black and white about this job is the car."


                          • #14
                            I appreciate all the information I received here, and plan on using it when I have "that call." Thanks for the help!
                            Last edited by colbra923; 04-27-2011, 08:54 AM.


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