If you call 911 in Newark after having a car accident, you might be on your own.
Officers won’t come to the scene of accidents without injuries.
Bamboozled learned of this policy after Barry David of Jersey City got into an accident at the intersection of Bloomfield and Highland Avenues last year.
No one was injured, but there was damage to his car.
The other driver didn’t have a license, registration or insurance card, so David called police.
He said dispatch promised an officer would arrive soon.
Twenty minutes passed with no officers, so he called again. This time he was told someone was on the way.
While Barry waited, he asked the driver for her information again. Instead, she called the owner of the car.
The owner arrived and presented his documentation, but nothing for the driver, David said.
His next call to 911 — with information that the driver didn’t have any paperwork — brought a surprise.
“I was told by the dispatcher that Newark police are not required to report to… car accidents (without injuries) and for both parties to walk in the reports,” David said.
That sounded wrong to David, but it was indeed correct.
The police department policy came in the form of a memo from former police director Samuel DeMaio in 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 also said dispatchers should tell drivers that officers won’t be dispatched, and that they should exchange information and follow up with their insurance companies or visit a precinct to file a report.
We asked current police director Anthony Ambrose about the policy, and he said it would be reviewed to see if it should stand.
“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 at the time. “I’m looking at it and giving it hard consideration to possibly restore it.”
He said the decision should be made in about six weeks, which would have been late January.
When we called to check in late January, no decision had been made and we were asked to call again at the end of February.
We did, and we were told they needed more time.
By mid-March, though, there was still no decision.
“Director Ambrose is planning to address the policy you inquired about,” a public information officer said in an email. “However, we do not have a timeline for the policy change as other priorities are being addressed.”
Indeed, we’re sure the Newark PD has bigger fish to fry, but it seems this issue is a relatively simple one.
Either there are enough officers to respond to accidents, or there aren’t.
This practice isn’t uncommon with larger departments, our reporting found, but it’s still a big deal for drivers. There could be consequences when trying to get an insurance company to pay on a claim — something David is still fighting about with the car owner’s insurance company.
The other large town police departments we spoke to said it’s not uncommon for police not to respond if the damage is less than $500.
The problem here is that it’s tough for a driver to determine the value of the damage at an accident scene. Even a small dent can cause a large body shop bill.
State law says drivers involved in an accident with damage of more than $500 must report the incident to the local police and complete a report within 10 days. (See N.J.S.A 39:4-130.)
We took the issue to Steve Carrellas, head of the New Jersey chapter of the National Motorists Association.
Carrellas said state law requires a motorist to notify police and file an accident report if injuries are involved or if damage exceeds $500. The law doesn’t require police to respond, but if they do arrive at the scene to investigate, they must produce an accident report.
We imagine all those man hours are a big reason why Newark and other large municipalities don’t require officers to report to all accident scenes.
“The real need for sending police to the scene is for the protection of motorists who are otherwise preoccupied with the aftermath of the accident and are less likely to be aware of their surroundings,” Carrellas said.
In this case, police would have come in handy to enforce the law related to the required documentation because one of the drivers couldn’t produce a license, registration or insurance card.
And having an officer on the scene also might have helped David in his fight against the insurance company, which isn’t over yet.
David says he’s frustrated that Newark hasn’t made a decision on this policy, and he’s still pursuing a lawsuit against the insurance company and others related the accident. We’ll let you know what happens.
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.