There’s a chance Las Vegas police officers will stop responding to minor traffic accidents this year.
Nothing is set in stone, but the Metropolitan Police Department’s top brass are considering making the policy change because of decreased manpower and rising calls for service.
The ratio of Las Vegas police officers per 1,000 residents has dwindled to about 1.8, under the national standard of 2.0 and well below the department peak of 2.06 several years ago.
“Based on our current staffing levels, we are being forced to look at our services and our service responses in some areas,” said officer Lawrence Hadfield, a police spokesman. “At this time there hasn’t been any policy changes, but we are looking at the number of areas where we may have to change our protocol.”
That means people involved in minor accidents would need to exchange information with the other driver and fill out their own accident reports.
Robert Compan, an executive board member for the Nevada Insurance Council, said he expects to see more fraud cases.
“It’s going to have a huge effect. More than any of us can fathom right now,” said Compan, who is also a manager at Farmers Insurance.
Compan said a police report is often the only neutral statement for insurance companies to use in determining fault.
“For us to investigate the accident without having the insight and intelligence of a police officer at the scene, well, how do you piece that all together?” he said. “It puts it all on us to determine who is telling the truth. The drivers of the vehicles, they’re not experts. They just know they got hit.”
Unscrupulous lawyers could take advantage of the lack of credible information as well, he said.
“Joe Uninsured will go talk to an attorney, who will say, ‘Are you injured?’ ‘Yeah, I’m injured.’ Next thing you know they’ve got MRIs, numerous treatments, chiropractic treatments, all before we even find out about (the accident) and look at the vehicles to see if those damages could cause those injuries.”
If investigating claims becomes more costly, Compan said Nevada consumers could end up paying more.
Several Las Vegas officers said they were told the change is coming, although it’s not clear when it will be implemented.
The new policy wouldn’t apply if someone is injured or if drunken driving is suspected, the officers said.
The department handled between 12,000 and 14,000 accidents where no one was injured in each of the past five years, and another additional 10,000 collisions where someone was hurt. Police received more than 800,000 calls for service in 2012.
Downsizing has been a recent theme at the department, which in 2012 cut its anti-drug DARE program and slashed other proactive policing programs.
Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie has tried to persuade Clark County commissioners to approve a 0.15 percentage point increase in the sales tax to pay for more police officers and bridge the department’s $30 million budget shortfall.
If the tax hike is approved, the department would hire 101 additional officers in the next two fiscal years.
“When you’re getting down to boots on the ground, doing the job, responding to calls for service, I need those people in uniform and in black-and-whites,” Gillespie said in 2012.
It’s not clear when, or if, the policy would take effect.
But Hadfield said the department will be proactive in alerting the public about any changes.
“Everything has to be looked at. If a change is made, we will educate the public about it before it goes into effect,” he said.
Victor Hugo Rodriguez, a regional spokesman for State Farm Insurance, said the company recommends drivers extensively document the accident themselves.
Check for injuries and note the number of people involved, he said. Exchange insurance information, contact information and license plate numbers. Take photos of the damage to both cars.
“Finally, note how the accident occurred and if there were witnesses, get their contact information for your insurer and contact your insurance agent immediately,” Rodriguez wrote.