Northern Pen : 2019-01-02
Front Page : 2 : 2
2 WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 2, 2019 NORTHERNPEN.CA Meet the Newfoundland RCMP officer whose job it is to witness — and investigate — vehicle collisions BY JONATHAN PARSONS accidents all over Newfoundland and Labrador. His job is to investigate crash scene and vehicles, using surveying instruments, photos and even drones to help determine the cause. Taking vehicles at their final resting position, he investigates and submits the results to the local RCMP detachment. “Every crash we consider a crime scene until we determine it’s not,” said Whiffen. Police can also access data like when the brakes were deployed and how fast the vehicles were going in the seconds before the collision. The puzzle of determining the cause of an accident on the roads can often boil down to a litany of factors. Whiffen says while the speed of the vehicle is not always the major cause of a collision, it is a contributing factor which directly affects all other aspects of driving. “The thing with speed is, the faster you go, the shorter time you have to react to a problem and the longer it’s going to take your vehicle to stop.” THE PACKET CLARENVILLE, N.L. R CMP Sgt. Oliver Whiffen of Clarenville knows exactly what happens when vehicles are involved in life-altering or lifeending collisions. Some days, he wishes he didn’t. “I’ve seen things I don’t want to see … It would be nice for the public to know what the results are, but I really don’t think they should see what we see," Whiffen says. “I don’t think they should be exposed to what we’re exposed to. I’ve seen mutilated bodies, decapitated bodies, children, people burned after a crash. I’ve had to go out and pick up pieces of bodies and put them in a bag. People shouldn’t have to see that. That’s all a result of highway collisions. It’s not pretty.” Over his 17 years as a police officer — 12 as a collision reconstruction program manager with traffic services — Whiffen has responded at a moment’s notice to JONATHAN PARSONS/THE PACKET For example, when travelling at the posted speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour, drivers are moving at about 27-metres per second. “The faster you go, the more that distance increases. Say it takes you two seconds to react. From the time you see a problem until your brain tells your foot to go to the brake … you’ve travelled 54 metres.” And that's under prime conditions. Speed is a contributing factor to a potential accident that exponentially increases when elements like weather, road conditions, distracted driving, moose on the highways and even tire wear, are taken into account. “We rarely see a crash where speed is the only factor (but) it can be a contributing factor,” he says. The awful results of highway accidents shouldn’t have to be experienced by anyone, so that's why Whiffen wants to see people drive defensively and be more responsible with their driving. “You need to get in that vehicle and focus on what you’re doing … Treat driving as a chore. “You can’t just go from point A to point B and zone out. It doesn’t work that way.” [email protected] Twitter: @jejparsons KYLE GREENHAM The video involved a vehicle turning out of a gas station that nearly resulted in a collision with Nagle. “The driver eventually found the page and agreed that he shouldn’t have taken the turn,” Nagle said. “I think [Dash Cam NL] does improve people’s driving. People can see the same intersections they take and the reckless things people can do and think that number one, that is dangerous, and number two, I don’t want to end up on this Facebook page.” Since placing the camera situated on his dashboard, Nagle says it is a steady reminder to watch his own driving habits as well. “There’s things as a driver you often don’t think about in the moment, but in retrospect, you watch the footage and think ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that turn, or maybe I should have slowed down there’,” he said. Starting point According to Ossinger, these videos can serve as a great starting point for a police investigation. With cameras so readily available through either dash cams or people’s smartphones, it is evidence the RCMP and RNC receive more often. But Ossinger says the extent to which these videos result in charges or arrests depends on several factors, such as what is revealed in the video, how recent the video was taken, and if the person who captured the footage is willing to cooperate as a witness. “It’s important for people to realize that a video is only one brick in a wall of evidence we’re trying to build,” he said. “Video is often not going to be able to capture and identify a driver, so further investigation is always going to be needed. I personally don’t use these groups [like Dash Cam NL] as an investigative tool, because it’s often hard to link those videos with someone who made an infraction.” And, he adds, sometimes this type of public forum can escalate problems. “My impression of social media is that sometimes these public forums can foster healthy discussions, but sadly, more often than not, they can also foster a lot of conflict,” Ossinger said. “The critical discussions that get attached to videos that are posted - I worry people are going to be escalating conflict rather than resolving anything in that format.” Most of the comments Tucker has seen on Dash Cam NL remains civil – except for the occasional curse words. “You get some people that will put some foul language about the person who posted the video or driver,” he said. “I haven't seen any threats or anything like that." The administrators of Dash Cam NL were contacted for comment but did not respond by deadline. THE CENTRAL VOICE NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR I n the age of smartphones and social media, groups like the Facebook page Dash Cam NL provide a public forum to catch bad drivers in the act. St. John’s resident Darren Tucker has posted over eight videos to the page, capturing vehicles dangerously speeding through stop signs and turns that are near misses. He says Dash Cam NL, which currently has over 7,600 followers, is a useful tool for discouraging poor driving decisions. “I know a couple people who have made mistakes and will say ‘I’m going to end up on Dash Cams NL now,’” said Tucker. “It can be a deterrent for people to start driving sensible.” Police have a differing view. Particularly with footage where a license plate or a visual of the driver is available, RCMP Staff-Sgt. Dave Ossinger - who is in charge of the traffic services division in Newfoundland - would prefer to see videos submitted directly to the RCMP rather than posted on social media. “When a case is before the courts and it involves dash cam footage, it is certainly important to remind people to not share court evidence in a public forum,” he said. “Details FILE PHOTO The popular Facebook page Dash Cam NL posts footage of incidents of bad and often dangerous driving habits recorded by drivers in the province. in police investigation are classified as protected information not meant to be shared with the public. “I would hope that someone who asks us to open an investigation would then not subsequently put that evidence in the public sphere.” The worst footage Tucker ever recorded came when he witnessed a vehicle speeding through a stop sign and nearly hitting a pedestrian about to cross. But because it occurred at night and he did not get a visual of the driver or the vehicle’s license plate, he decided against sending it to police. A lesson? Justin Nagle bought a dash cam shortly after purchasing a vehicle over a year ago. Nearly every day, he says he encounters some act of bad driving that’s worth preserving. Like Tucker, he sees value in the public pressure and shaming a group like Dash Cam NL can put on drivers. Nagle even had the driver from a video he posted leave a comment on the Facebook page. [email protected] All part of policing But dealing with the court process is something that police officers are accustomed to, he says. “You have to realize that the person that is innocent until proven guilty," Hussher said. “The court process is a big part of policing.” He hasn’t found the cost associated with court appearances to be too much of a drain on the departments, but he does try to be mindful of it. “It’s the nature of the business. If you have to charge people, you expect to be in court,” he said. “They have a right to a fair trial. We have to accommodate them.” According to stats from the Department of Justice, from 2014 through 2017, roughly eight per cent of people fought speeding tickets in court. Hussher said there was once a time that officers were required to be there for plea dates and arraignments, which was even more taxing on police departments, but now officers aren’t required to be in court as much as they used to be. and is scheduled to be in court, that’s where they’ll be, waiting to give their statement. But because of the staffing levels, rather than have another police officer fill in on the shift, Moser is left to rely on the fact that if an incident happens that requires police attention, the officer in court is ready to leave at a moment’s notice. In most cases, the court is flexible enough to adjust its schedule until the officer returns. “The courts are fairly decent to deal with,” he said, adding that there is also the option of calling for mutual aid from neighbouring departments. Moser used to work for the muchlarger Halifax police department and said even larger forces had to look at mitigating the impacts on overtime caused by court appearances. Don Hussher is police chief for the Westville and Stellarton police departments in Pictou County. When someone decides to fight a ticket, officers are then required to be in court in Pictou for the trial. Fighting speeding tickets tie up policing resources in court BY ADAM MACINNIS SALTWIRE NETWORK T here’s a hidden cost to speeding tickets. While heavy-footed drivers may grumble about the financial hardships of a fine or the points taken off their license, police forces often must take into account the cost of seeing the fine through from the issuing of the ticket to the accused’s day in court, if they should so choose. Annapolis Royal Police Chief Tim Moser calls it the cost of doing business. It’s something he constantly keeps in mind as the head of a small police force. With a police force of four, there are usually one to two officers on duty at a time. If an officer is on duty
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