A North Carolina bill would create positions and training for civilian employees to investigate traffic crashes in order to free police officers up for other duties amid ongoing staffing shortages.
House Bill 140, proposed by State Senator John Faircloth of Guilford, would permit civilians to conduct routine traffic accident investigations and submit reports for crashes that involve only property damage.
According to the legislation, the civilian investigators would not have the authority to make arrests or issue criminal process notices, and would only be able to respond to non-citation, non-injury calls.
The bill also requires civilian employees to undergo training with law enforcement officers experienced in such calls.
In previous years, Faircloth filed similar bills but they were overlooked by the state’s General Assembly.
However, given the staffing shortages at police departments across the state and the difficulty recruiting more officers, Faircloth believes his bill may get more interest this time around.
“Officers who are out there fully equipped to answer any kind of calls are being called away to investigate a two-car bump-up,” Faircloth said. “That can tie up officers sometimes for as much as a couple of hours. That’s sort of what’s driving this.”
North Carolina would not be the first state to hire civilians to boost staffing.
Baltimore, Phoenix and New Orleans police departments have also begun incorporating civilian positions to manage the shortages.
According to North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police legislative counsel Fred Baggett, departments in the state are on average 10–30% understaffed.
Baggett also cited local acts passed by cities authorizing civilian investigators to submit reports on accidents.
In Wilmington, for instance, nearly 30% of all traffic accidents were responded to by civilian employees, amounting to approximately 2,000 calls and saving hours of extra work for sworn officers.
“Authorizing all cities to have the option of using civilian traffic crash investigators will benefit the public by allowing sworn police officers to respond to higher-priority calls faster and help insure that when someone calls the police, a police officer is available instead of being tied up for one or hours on a minor traffic accident,” Baggett wrote in an article.
The legislation would also require civilian investigators to file and submit reports to their law enforcement agency just like officers would.
Civilian employees would be uniformed with an outfit distinct from police officers and would be permitted to tow or remove vehicles involved in wreckage blocking traffic on streets or highways.
Faircloth said the bill does not require cities and towns to hire the investigators.
“In no way are we telling them they have to,” Faircloth said. “It’s just an option that they can have.”