As outrage over the rollout of a new Metro Police protocol on responding to noninjury accidents unfolds, at least one of the candidates for Clark County sheriff says he’ll do his best to search for ways to continue the practice of sending a cop to most every fender-bender.
But, no promises.
Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo says the department’s policy has been largely misunderstood; if a motorist involved in a crash wants a cop to respond to the scene, one will be dispatched. But it could take a long time for that officer to arrive, he warns. That’s because the department is trying to position its officers doing jobs where they can have the biggest impact.
“It’s a marshaling of resources,” Lombardo says. “I personally believe we’ve done great due diligence in marshaling our resources.”
That marshaling led to the new policy, in which dispatchers will ask motorists involved in noninjury crashes several questions, the answers to which will determine if an officer is needed or not. For example, is anyone injured? If the answer is yes, officers will be sent.
Another question: Can the vehicles involved in the crash be moved to a safe place, out of traffic? If not, an officer will be sent to deal with getting the damaged vehicle out of the roadway.
Another: Is the other driver involved in the crash being cooperative in handing over insurance and registration information? If not, an officer will be sent to make sure that takes place.
If there are no injuries, the cars can be moved from the roadway and the parties are exchanging insurance information peacefully, there may be no need for an officer to show up. But, Lombardo stressed, if a motorist wants an officer, one will be sent.
Why the new rules? The department is trying to focus its traffic team on preventing fatal crashes, which means cracking down on violations such as excessive speeding, not wearing seat belts, reckless driving and the like.
But the policy has nonetheless drawn a huge amount of criticism: Although state law doesn’t say cops have to respond to each and every crash, Las Vegas motorists have grown used to officers doing just that. Some injuries aren’t immediately apparent at the scene of a crash, and having an independent, experienced third party investigate and document findings in a written report can help adjudicate fault later on.
That’s probably why Lombardo says he’ll work — now, as an assistant sheriff, and in the future if he’s elected to replace current Sheriff Doug Gillespie — to try to find the manpower in the department’s existing budget to allow officers to respond to most all crashes, as they do now.
But Lombardo stressed that the new policy — which he said has been under consideration for nearly two years — is not a reaction to the failure of the Clark County Commission to pass a 0.15-percentage-point increase in the sales tax in order to pay for officer salaries. “It isn’t an action because of the no vote on More Cops,” Lombardo said.
On the other hand, he said he hasn’t given up on the tax, either. “If I’m elected sheriff, I’m going after More Cops again,” he pledged. And it only makes sense that more cops on the payroll means more cops to respond to accidents. But lest voters think the department is trying to strong-arm the commission, Lombardo says he’ll work to get officers to accident scenes even without a vote on More Cops money.
The accident policy debate is just a small part of a larger story, however, one that reminds us that nothing is free. Falling property tax revenues lead to smaller budgets, which lead to reduced work forces, which lead to the need to prioritize the efforts of the police officers on duty at any given time. In this, as in so many other debates about government action, money will always be a factor.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.