Legislation that would allow the use of civilian traffic investigators for property damage incidents advanced at NC House on Wednesday.
However, it seems likely that going further, none of the six local House or Senate bills on the matter could contain language allowing such civilians to issue subpoenas.
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary 2 committee removed citation language from House Bill 1011 before recommending it to the Rules and Operations Committee.
Although HB1011 only affects Greenville and Wilmington, legislative staff said the removal of citation language affects Democratic-sponsored bills with similar intentions in the Triad: Senate Bill 809 which covers Winston-Salem and Senate Bill 912 which covers Greensboro.
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The Winston-Salem and Greensboro bills failed to go to a Senate committee on Wednesday,
According to State Law 20-166.1, if a motor vehicle accident occurs in a city or town, drivers are required to call the local police department.
If the accident occurs outside of a city or town, drivers should call the NC Highway Patrol or county sheriff’s office.
The Wilmington Police Department began using two civilian traffic investigators in 2008, according to a 2018 Spectrum News report. The report said the two investigators averaged more than 1,000 crashes each year through 2017 at least.
The Fayetteville Police Department operates with a similar civilian traffic investigation authority.
Civilian Traffic Investigators in Fayetteville and Wilmington are not authorized to write citations, arrest or bring criminal charges.
The initial release of HB1011 would allow the Greenville Police Department to license civilian traffic investigators like Wilmington. This power remains in the revised bill.
It would also have expanded the authority of Wilmington Civil Investigators to include issuing citations for offenses, as well as allowing Greenville to have the same citation authority.
Rep. Carson Smith, R-Pender, said he submitted the amendment to remove the citation language because he saw it as “just the first step” toward expanding the authority of civilian investigators traffic beyond what lawmakers might be comfortable with.
Smith said HB1011 was unlikely to get the Judiciary 2 recommendation with citation language included.
“We need to talk about it a little more,” Smith said.
Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Wilkes and president of Judiciary 2, said the citation language represents “a pretty big leap for a program that has been experimental anyway.”
Stevens said she wants more input from the state Department of Public Safety and the Fayetteville and Wilmington police departments before supporting any expanded authority for civilian traffic investigators.
Tuesday, House Bill 1024 which affects Durham City authorized the House Local Government Committee and was sent to the Judiciary 2. The Durham Bill does not include citation language.
SB809, with nearly identical language to HB1024, was filed May 27 by Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, at the request of Winston-Salem city officials.
Lowe could not immediately be contacted about whether he would remove the citation language from SB809.
The city lacks law enforcement officers, and shifting routine traffic accidents to civilians would allow sworn officers to handle more serious crimes.
Lowe said he and Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, were asked by Police Chief Catrina Thompson about submitting SB809 “to help address the obvious shortage of law enforcement officers in the city”.
“We met with our local Raleigh delegation and asked them to sponsor this legislation,” Winston-Salem City Manager Lee Garrity said June 4. “We have such a shortage of police officers.
“We are looking for alternatives to provide certain services where you wouldn’t necessarily need a sworn agent.”
SB912 was filed on June 1 by the Sens. Michael Garrett and Gladys Robinson, both D-Guilford.
Lowe said there was a conversation about Guilford and Forsyth submitting their bills together, but opted for separate bills to go their own way during the current session.
For the Guilford delegation, SB912 represents its second attempt at clearance.
House Bill 303 has the sponsorship of three of the delegation’s four Democrats and its two Republicans.
The initial version of HB303 was filed on March 16, 2021 to authorize Greensboro to establish a small business program. SB912 also contains a lot of small business language.
HB303 was amended April 22, 2021 to add Civilian Traffic Investigator language. The bill was approved by the House in a voice vote the same day.
It was sent to the State Senate four days later, where it was placed in Rules and Operations and not implemented. Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, said Wednesday he continues to seek Senate support for HB303.
Main details of SB809
According to SB809, a report completed by a civilian traffic investigator “should be treated the same as if completed by a law enforcement officer.” The investigator may authorize the use of a tow vehicle to remove a vehicle that is obstructing a street or public thoroughfare.
However, only law enforcement would be able to investigate an accident involving alcohol, bodily injury or death.
Each civilian investigator must complete a training program designed by the city in consultation with the NC Justice Academy.
Civilian traffic investigators would be issued credentials, but not badges or weapons, by the city. They would wear a uniform color “substantially different in color and style” from a local police officer.
The Civilian Traffic Investigator would be required to produce such identifying information upon request by a member of the public involved in or witnessing an accident.
Their vehicle “may have emergency equipment and lights installed, but must not use blue lights in any way. Red and yellow lights are permitted.