Addition of Personnel Ends 4-Month Lapse : Police Again Answering Fender-Bender Calls

Times Staff Writer

The San Diego Police Department has resumed its practice of dispatching police officers to take reports of non-injury traffic collisions, after a four-month hiatus brought on by a shortage of police officers.

Bill Robinson, a police spokesman, said an influx of newly trained personnel enabled the department to resume police investigations of fender benders on Friday.

"Additional police officers have graduated from the academy and have been assigned to field duties," Robinson said. "With additional officers in the field, the department is able to resume this public service."

The department suspended the practice early this year after experiencing a 25% increase in the reported traffic accidents over the previous year. Officials said the deluge of minor accidents was leaving officers insufficient time to respond to serious cases.

In addition, the department had shifted some officers to foot patrols and narcotics units. Department officials said that left the traffic division at 80% strength, unable to spare officers for minor accidents.

Since January, officials said, eight civilian community-service officers have been dispatched to handle non-injury accidents. Those officers passed on their reports to police officers, who in turn issued citations by mail.

Because only eight community service officers were available to work on non-injury accidents, response time is believed to have been slower under that system. Motorists were encouraged to exchange information for insurance purposes even if no officer showed up.

In the meantime, uniformed officers continued to respond to injury accidents, fatalities and hit-and-run cases in which drugs or alcohol were suspected. They also handled all accidents in which there was a potential for felony prosecution.

"It was just a matter of cutting our lowest-priority item," Jim Kennedy, traffic division commander, said at the time. "Over the years, responding to minor traffic accidents has been considered a courtesy."

In 1986, the department received about 20,000 calls involving non-injury accidents. Robinson attributed the 25% increase in accidents of all sorts to population growth and lower gas prices, which have put more cars on the road.

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