"And how many people were likely in this vehicle when the crash occurred?" Golden asked the recruits after pointing out several key points inside the car.
"I'd say one, sir," recruit
"Most likely one," Golden said, nodding his approval. "And why is that? Because we have a front air bag deployment but no air bag deployment on the front passenger's side, for starters."
All across the back lot of Vinny's Towing and Recovery business on
Later that day, each student officer was expected to compile a thorough report of their observations back at the academy to close out the week's lessons, said Officer 1st Class
"This gives them a chance to go around, match everything up, and then we'll go back to the station, and we'll actually have them fill out what's called an ACRS, an Automated Crash Reporting System report," Lawson said.
While an actual ACRS report requires additional information -- such as road conditions and driver or witness statements, which the recruits did not have access to during Thursday's visit to the scrap yard -- the instructors worked closely with Vinny's to ensure the class was given the most realistic scenario possible.
During last week's class, as an example, the towing company set up a 2011 Hyundai Sonata and a 1994 Nissan Sentra parked side by side in the cramped back lot.
"From what we were told, these two vehicles were involved in a collision about two days ago," Lawson said of the cars, both of which had corresponding damage to their front bumpers. "When I called them, they were like, 'Oh, well, 15 minutes ago we just got in two vehicles from the same collision, so we'll be good to go for you.'"
In fact, the cars set aside for Thursday's lesson were so recent that an Allstate insurance agent investigating the crash arrived at the lot just half an hour after the recruits.
Not one to miss out on a teachable moment, Cpl.
"This guy is not the enemy, but he's working for the insurance company, OK?" Temple said, addressing the recruits.
Police can and should be able to answer general questions about a crash if they are approached by insurance agents or, in other cases, members of the media, but Temple warned the recruits against becoming too comfortable discussing their views on an investigation.
"Your opinion does not belong in anything of his," Temple said, pointing to the insurance agent's clipboard. "Be very careful, because you don't want to throw your opinion in and then all of the sudden Allstate's going to be like, 'I need your name, because guess what?'"
"... You've just become a witness," the Allstate agent said, finishing Temple's thought with a smile.
"There you go. You're now a witness for this crash [investigation], and were you on scene when this crash happened?" Temple said. "Probably not, no."
The example provided an easy segue into Temple's next talking point.
"Even with the wrecks we investigate, it takes sometimes months to figure out who's at fault," Temple said as he led the class around the front of the vehicles to examine some of the other cars in the lot and give the insurance agent space to continue his report. "People think you just walk right up and the officer says, 'Oh, this guy's at fault.' But no, there's actually quite a bit more to it than that."
Crash reconstruction relies heavily on mathematics -- even the most basic equations fill several volumes of guidebooks on the subject -- as well as witness testimony.
If a crash or collision results in charges, investigators are under even more pressure to check all of their calculations, Temple said. Defense attorneys also have access to reconstruction experts, including some former police officers, who will be ready to present counterarguments if a case goes to trial.
With that in mind, the importance of getting recruits as much hands-on experience as possible with crash investigations was highlighted in each new academy's lesson plans, Lawson said.
"A lot of them, just like me, they need the hands-on experience to actually connect the dots from what you learned in the classroom to what they're seeing out here," Lawson said. "By having them look at the actual damage, it becomes a little bit easier for them to actually visualize."
(c)2018 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)
Visit The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) at www.fredericknewspost.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.