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Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Personnel shortage calls for adjustments

By By the Advocate Editorial Board
April 6, 2013 at 3:03 p.m.
Updated April 5, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.


WHAT TO DO

If you are involved in a minor wreck, follow these steps:

• Drive your cars off the roadway to a safe place to exchange information.

• Note the time and location of the wreck, including street names and block number.

• Note the weather and traffic conditions.

• If you have a camera or smartphone, take pictures of the damage.

• Exchange information, including names, insurance, addresses, driver's license numbers, phone numbers, license plates and makes and models of vehicles.

SOURCE: VICTORIA POLICE CHIEF J.J. CRAIG

Law enforcement plays an important role in society. It helps build and maintain a safe society in our hometown and give citizens a trustworthy place to turn in a crisis. But when law enforcement policies or services change, anxiety in the community often follows.

On April 6, Victoria Police Department implemented a new policy on responding to minor wrecks. Instead of officers responding to every wreck, drivers in minor wrecks will be instructed to exchange information and then directed to a website to download the Texas Department of Transportation form CR-2, also known as a "blue form," to fill out and give to their insurance companies. A minor wreck is an incident in which there are no injuries and both cars can be driven from the scene. However, if there is a crime involved, such as an intoxicated driver or a hit-and-run, officers will respond, Victoria Police Chief J.J. Craig said. Operators have been trained to ask certain questions to determine if an officer needs to be at the scene.

Craig said this new policy will free up officers for high-priority calls and allow more proactive patrols in neighborhoods, which are both important needs in the Victoria community. In the past, officers would respond to any wreck and file a full report, which could take hours of an officer's time in responding and paperwork. Last year, Victoria saw 1,200 minor "fender-bender" wrecks, Craig said. If each wreck took two to three hours of an officer's time, that totals 2,400 to 3,600 hours officers could be spending patrolling neighborhoods or dealing with more pressing issues.

This policy is also helping the police to deal with a staffing issue, Craig said. The department currently has 11 vacancies on the force, so officers need as much time as possible to deal with emergencies. The department expects new officers will join the force soon, including two who are slated to graduate from the police academy next month, and Craig is optimistic that the pay increases and support given by the city will help fill out the ranks.

Craig acknowledged this is a pilot program that is being evaluated as it takes effect. In a few months, the department plans to revisit this policy, and the feedback it has received from the community to determine if it is a viable solution to both serve the needs of Victorians while giving officers more time to deal with more urgent situations.

We understand the department is searching for ways to help officers make more efficient use of their time, and we are glad to see them taking action to find a solution. We have reservations about this new policy, but it is comforting to know this is not currently a permanent plan. We encourage Craig and the rest of the department to continue looking for ways to better serve the Victoria community and give this policy a thorough examination over the next few months.

We applaud Craig for his willingness to take a risk to find a solution. We hope this policy will prove to be an efficient alternative for Victoria. It has worked for larger cities, but if it does not prove to be the right solution, we are comforted to know this policy can be changed or removed.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.

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