Change in car accident reporting won’t affect suburban police

Change in car accident reporting won’t affect suburban police

Jeff Cole

The Journal Sentinel staff

A proposal in the state Legislature to raise the dollar threshold for reporting car accidents to police won’t have much effect on law enforcement in Ozaukee and Washington county communities, an informal survey Monday showed.

“In the suburbs, we investigate everything anyway,” Germantown Police Capt. Craig Evans said. “I could see where this would help the bigger departments, but out here, thankfully, we aren’t so busy we have to worry about something like that.”

State Department of Transportation officials have asked the Legislature to double the $500 accident reporting threshold to $1,000. An insurance industry official told the Journal Sentinel that while the industry needed police reports to fairly resolve claims, Wisconsin companies would not oppose the change in the state threshold.

A DOT official said one reason for raising the floor is to free up police officers for more critical duties.

In 1994, Transportation Department figures showed that 124,000 accidents involving property damage of $500 or more were reported.

The proposal is part of Gov. Tommy Thompson’s 1995-’97 budget proposal. All accidents involving injury or death would still have to be reported.

What the proposal would really mean to local departments would be sending less paperwork to the Department of Transportation, spokesmen for the departments said. Instead, local departments would retain copies of the accident reports in their own files.

Investigating accidents is just good community relations, all of the spokesmen said.

“We won’t change any procedures here,” said Jim Knowles, the Ozaukee County Sheriff Department’s chief deputy. “We’ll keep investigating all accidents. It will just mean less paperwork we will send to the state.”

Although police officers in bigger cities might not have the time to handle minor accidents, officers in Saukville do, said Saukville Police Chief William D. Meloy.

“I don’t think $1,000 damage to a car is any big deal now,” Meloy said. “You dent a door and it costs $500. Still, I encourage people to always file an accident report. No matter how small the accident, a report should be filed.”

Problems arise when a police report is not filed, said Thiensville Police Chief Richard Preston.

“People should always file a report,” Preston said. “Too many stories get changed real quick when there is no report.

“You might be involved in a minor accident that causes a few dents. That person could drive down the road, do major damage to their car and claim you were responsible.”

All of the police departments said they respond to any call, no matter how minor it seems.

All of the chiefs agreed that if an officer was too busy to respond to a minor accident call, those involved in the accident should come to the station later to file a report.

Insurance companies usually require police reports before they will pay damage claims, the chief noted.

“The threshold has changed several times before,” Meloy noted. “I can remember when it was $100, then $200 and now $500.”

“I think what this is is an attempt by the Department of Transportation to file less paperwork,” Meloy said.

Copyright 1995

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