You get into a car accident in Newark.
Luckily, no one is injured. The vehicles, while damaged, aren’t totaled.
You call and request police come to the scene to talk to witnesses and give you an accident report.
And they say no. We’re not coming.
That’s right. If you get into a non-fatal, minor damage crash, Newark police won’t come.
The policy came to light after Barry David of Jersey City got into an accident at the intersection of Bloomfield and Highland Avenues.
David said he was on Bloomfield and had the right of way to cross over Highland when a driver backed into his vehicle at approximately 6:45 p.m.
He said he asked the driver, a woman, to pull over “because she seemed to contemplate speeding off, but there was a witness.”
David said he inspected the damage to his vehicle and requested the other driver’s license, registration and insurance. She couldn’t produce any documents, he said.
That’s when he called police, and dispatch told David an officer would be there soon, David said.
After 20 minutes, no officer arrived, so he called again.
He was told someone was on the way, but no arrival time was offered, David said.
While he waited, he again asked the other driver for her paperwork. She still didn’t have any, David said, but she called the owner of the car to the scene.
When the owner, a man, arrived at about 7:30 p.m., David said he again asked for the driver’s paperwork.
The car’s owner presented his insurance card and registration, but not the driver’s license.
So at about 7:40 p.m., David said, he called 911 again.
“I demanded that an officer or zone commander report to the scene due to the driver not having any credentials,” David said. “I was told by the dispatcher that Newark police are not required to report to non-fatal car accidents and for both parties to walk in the reports.”
David said he couldn’t believe what he was told. Police won’t respond to non-fatal accidents? Since when?
The other car’s owner and the driver left — her driving away without a license. David said he waited another 30 minutes, hoping police would show, but when no patrol car arrived, he left.
David said he and the witness, who did stay on the scene, went to find an officer the witness saw in the neighborhood earlier. (Bamboozled later spoke to the witness, who corroborated David’s claims.)
They found the officer, who gave David a state accident form to complete.
David said he brought the report to the precinct at 1 Lincoln Avenue two days later.
The desk officer explained the precinct couldn’t accept the report and that it had to be mailed to Trenton, David said. But, David said the officer explained, without the name of the other driver, the report would be rejected.
David said he returned to the precinct several times to try his luck with different officers. On one visit, he said, he asked the desk officer call the car’s owner to request he bring the woman’s driver’s license so David could complete the report.
David said the owner came to the station, but he didn’t have the driver’s license.
David did get the car owner’s license, but he’s been unsuccessful in getting the owner’s insurance company to pay for the damage. He only has comprehensive coverage on his own vehicle.
That part of the case is ongoing, and we’ll report to you what happens.
NO-SHOW AT ACCIDENTS?
David believes part of his challenge with the insurance company is because no officer came to the accident scene.
And heck, if the woman was indeed an unlicensed driver or didn’t have a valid driver’s license, she might have been arrested, or at least ticketed.
David wanted to get to the bottom of this. He said he understood it could take time for a patrol car to arrive, especially if officers are busy with crime calls, but to not show up at all? That wasn’t something any driver would expect.
He tried to get answers. Specifically he wanted to know what ordinance said showing up at accident scenes was optional.
“I’ve filed complaints with Internal Affairs, Office of Professional Standards, New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, Newark’s Law Department, but no one has produced the documents I requested,” David said. “I’m sure I’m not the only case and this breeds other illegal or unlicensed drivers to operate vehicles and cause accidents knowing that Newark police won’t respond.”
He also tried the city clerk.
“Please note that no such ordinance exists in the city’s code,” the clerk’s office said in an email. “The information you seek may be in the form of a police order within the Department of Public Safety, i.e. a policy, not an ordinance.”
That’s when David contacted Bamboozled.
We reached out to Newark’s Department of Public Safety.
We learned that yes, the police department has a policy of not responding to all accidents.
It came down in a memo dated Jan. 19, 2010.
“Effective immediately, radio cars shall not be dispatched to motor vehicle accidents involving no injury and minor damage,” the memo said. “It shall be the call takers [CQ] responsibility to determine if there are injuries involved, if vehicles are drivable, and the extent of the damage to the vehicles.”
The memo said call takers should advise drivers that radio cars won’t be dispatched, and that drivers should be instructed to either exchange information and follow up with their insurance companies or head to the nearest precinct to file a report — the same kind of report David was instructed to complete.
Police Director Anthony Ambrose said he wasn’t with the department when the policy was instituted, and he wasn’t aware of it until now.
He said he’s asked his staff to research the policy to determine if a change should be made.
“I am leaning on the customer side. I believe in customer service, but you have to realize in 2010 we had a 30 percent reduction, so I have almost 400 fewer officers, so that’s probably why [the policy was instituted],” Ambrose said. “I’m looking at it and giving it hard consideration to possibly restore it.”
Ambrose said he should have an answer in about six weeks, and his office will let us know of the decision.
This apparently isn’t an uncommon practice.
“Certain police departments are understaffed and they can’t respond to the lower level calls for service that are provided by the majority of police agencies,” said William Parenti, chief of North Plainfield’s police department and president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.
But we called several other large cities in the state, and we couldn’t find a similar policy.
Camden and Elizabeth didn’t respond to our request, and Jersey City said it had never heard of such a policy.
Edison said it responds to all accidents.
“We investigate all motor vehicle accidents unless there are no injuries and only very minor damage, usually less than $500,” Police Chief Thomas Bryan said.
Paterson police director Jerry Speziale said officers respond to all “reportable accidents,” meaning when the damage is more than $400.
We’d imagine most drivers aren’t able to accurately estimate damage costs, but with the way cars are made these days, a small dent or scratch can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars to fix.
David, who says he plans to file a lawsuit against the car owner’s insurance company and others related to how the accident was treated, thinks Newark should change the policy.
“When you divert resources to put the general public at risk, that is a serious dereliction of the duty they were sworn to uphold: protect and serve,” he said.
We’ll keep you posted on Newark’s decision and David’s pending lawsuit.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.