Beutler proposes cutting non-injury accident reports

2012-07-05T15:55:00Z 2012-07-18T14:53:14Z Beutler proposes cutting non-injury accident reportsBy JORDAN PASCALE / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Lincoln police no longer would spend time writing reports for non-injury accidents under a cost-cutting proposal announced Thursday by Mayor Chris Beutler.

An estimated $145,000 in savings would result by not replacing the equivalent of two and a half full-time officers needed for the task.

Those tax savings could come, however, at the price of higher insurance rates paid by drivers not at fault in crashes, suggests at least one Lincoln insurance agent. 

Beutler said the proposal came from an online budget survey called Taking Charge, on which non-injury reports were listed as the lowest priority.

Officers still would respond to crashes to make sure roads are clear, drivers are licensed, insured and sober, and that information is exchanged, Public Safety Director Tom Casady said.

However, they wouldn't investigate the cause, interview witnesses and drivers, take photos, measure the scene and create an accident report.

Drivers still would need to complete an accident report with the Nebraska Department of Roads when required by law. 

Drivers also would be reliant on their insurance companies to determine the cause and contributing factors of the crash.

About 7,000 non-injury accidents occurred last year in Lincoln, and each investigation and report takes about 45 minutes to complete, Casady said. 

He estimates the proposal would save about 5,250 hours -- the equivalent of two and a half full-time officers. No police would be laid off, Casady said, but some positions wouldn't be filled.

Most large cities do not respond to non-injury accidents.

Police in Lincoln have completed reports in order to make it more convenient for drivers and insurance companies to determine fault. 

Without the report, it will make it tougher on insurance companies who will have to investigate the crash on their own.

Jerry Sidlo of Lincoln, an agent with A+ Casualty Insurance, said insurance companies use the reports to determine fault and that determines if your rates increase. 

"Without that report, insurance companies will assume you are at fault," Sidlow said. "You may save taxpayer dollars on paying the police department, but when you get in an accident and can't prove fault, that means your rates may increase for the next three to five years."

It will likely mean more situations where drivers place blame on each other with no unbiased, third-party evidence to back it up.

However, Casady said this move isn't unprecedented -- about 20 years ago, police stopped reporting on accidents on private property, including parking lots.

"That worked out pretty well and we haven't had problems there," Casady said.

Beutler said more than 1,400 residents took the Taking Charge survey, and many didn't want to cut services like StarTran buses, libraries and pools.

Only 42 percent of respondents favored retaining non-injury accident reporting. It was the second year in a row the service ranked as the lowest priority.

Beutler said he had been leaning toward making cuts in StarTran services based on a recent audit, but decided not to after strong support. According to the survey, 68 percent wanted to retain current service levels.

"In government, it is easy to develop an ‘inside the beltway’ mentality in which the inner workings of government become the driving force, rather than the citizens we seek to serve,” Beutler said. “The Taking Charge process gives us a citizen’s view on our decision-making and helps our employees better understand the expectations of the public."

Beutler will present his full proposed budget to the City Council on Monday.

He said the budget cuts will not be as noticeable as in previous years.

The workforce will be reduced by 8.8 full-time equivalents -- 2.5 coming from the police force -- but most of the job reductions do not result from ending programs.

“It is a cautious budget that does not create big new spending obligations in response to sales tax growth,” Beutler said. “It is a fiscally prudent budget that still seeks to provide service more efficiently. And it is a budget that allows the people to have a say in how they are governed.”

Full results of the survey are available at Lincoln.NE.Gov.

Reach Jordan Pascale at 402-473-7120, jpascale@journalstar.com or follow him @LJSPascale.

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