SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Springfield Police Officers could have to respond to an additional one-thousand motor vehicle accidents if a council bill passes.
Council bill 2021-304, sponsored by Craig Hosmer, was presented at Monday’s council meeting. The purpose of the bill is to create a responsibility for the Springfield Police Department (SPD) to respond to all traffic incidents on public streets and property.
“This year, we’ve had I believe 27 motor vehicle fatalities, more than we’ve ever had in the city of Springfield,” Hosmer said. “Police officers have an obligation to protect and serve. When citizens call and report a motor vehicle accident, it’s my belief police officers should show up.”
Up until 2014, SPD responded to all accidents. From 2014 on, the department has responded mainly to accidents where there was a serious injury, an un-movable car, or if a person requested for police.
“Up until 2014, citizens would exchange information and file their own reports,” Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams said. “We just encourage people to do that more often in 2014.”
Williams said dispatchers will ask those involved in a crash specific questions to determine if police are needed.”
“We set some parameters in place so when that citizen calls to report the crash these things have to be in place before we can tell them they can report this on their own,” Williams said. “[Those include] property damage only to the vehicles. [The vehicles] have to be drivable. There’s no injuries for anyone involved. There’s not drinking, drugs, or any evidence of impairment whatsoever. The vehicles are movable, they could be driven away. Both drivers have to have a valid drivers license and insurance. If only those six things are in place, then citizens are told they can report it on their own. If someone says ‘no I want an officer to come,’ we go.”
SPD established 8 priorities for officers to respond to. Williams said responding to minor car accidents, or fender benders, would not fall in one of the top priorities. He added what the department has been doing since 2014 has worked out.
“We’ve been doing this for almost 8 years now and everyone’s pretty comfortable with it,” Williams said. “The only complaint I get is I get complaints from insurance companies all the time because they do like a police report.”
Several council members discussed how the bill would help the city and its residents.
“I still think it’s more important to have someone at scene when the thing occurs to have a more cognizant view of things and maybe talk to the motorists too,” Councilman Mike Schilling said. “Speeding, distracting driving, under the influence are the cognizant of [accidents] all the time. And also, the nature of the accident. Is it a stop sign violation, light violation, or bad engineering of an intersection that would be helpful for public works to know about those kinds of things. Even if there isn’t injury.”
“You may have young drivers that may get into their first accident at night and they’re confronted with someone who’s may not be as scrupulous and maybe isn’t as honest and shows them an insurance card that’s outdated and they probably don’t even know it,” Councilman Abe McGull said.
Others are concerned about the timing of the bill.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to go after fender benders when we’re 51 officers short and frankly, we’ve got lots of work to do out there,” Councilman Richard Ollis said.
Williams brought up staffing concerns, which could make responding to all accidents difficult.
“If we do this we will have to pull away from something else and at this point, my officers don’t have enough time to do what I ask them to do now,” Williams said. “Under current circumstances, this is not the time to be making a move like this.”
“I understand that there’s a lack of resources but in my opinion we have an obligation to our constituents to make sure that they are responded to when they call for police officers to report a motor vehicle accident,” Hosmer said.
Council is set to vote on the proposed bill December 13.