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How important is accident investigation?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

How important is accident investigation?

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
July 30, 2012

How important is accident investigation at the McHenry County Sheriff's Department?

In the past five or so years there have been numerous fatal and serious-injury accidents on McHenry County roads. County roads are the ones outside city and village jurisdiction. Within a city or a town with a police department, that department will commonly handle the crashes, unless a town's police vehicle is involved.

But on County roads it's the McHenry County Sheriff's Department that investigates crashes (unless a deputy is involved - more about this in a moment).

Accident investigation is crucial to the safety of drivers and pedestrians in the County. For this reason deputies attend special training institutes and learn specialized skills of accident investigation. With this specialized training, they should be able to ascertain with high degree of skill what the contributory causes were. They can assign fault, and then appropriate tickets to surviving drivers can be issued.

It is essential that these skilled investigators be allowed to do their jobs completely and as trained, and without interference from "above".

It is not a pleasant job. Just recently I met with a person in the rescue business to ask about PTSD - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I wanted to know how those involved in handling fatal and serious-injury accidents are helped. There is every reason to expect that they will need help. It's not a weakness to need and ask for help. And departments, whether police or fire/rescue, should be on high alert for indications that their employees need help in dealing with the aftermath.

What is happening at the McHenry County Sheriff's Department with its traffic and accident-investigation teams? Are these teams being trimmed back, even eliminated?

The job is not over. Just because a reduction in crashes may have been noted, there is no reason to discontinue accident-investigation services.

And what is the Department's response when a senior commander is involved in yet one more crash? How many does that make, in the past ten years? And why didn't that one make it to the newspaper? Was he ticketed?

Was that crash investigated by one of his subordinates (and a close friend)? Should the State Police have been called to investigate it? What caused that squad car to strike a fixed object? Maybe a little driver distraction? Perhaps something to do with an electronics device?

Protocol for investigating accidents (crashes) involving patrol cars is that the Illinois State Police or a police officer from a nearby town gets called. The idea is that the investigation will be impartial. Not really much chance of that, but it's worth a try.

But when your subordinate is called to investigate? What do you think the chances are that he'll say, "Sorry, boss, but I need to write you a ticket for this crash." If we had stockyards in McHenry County, you can guess where that deputy would be patrolling the next week! \

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