With the simple click of a mouse, Sgt. Charles Grasso recreates a car accident, causing a little green pickup truck to slide down a hill, narrowly miss oncoming traffic and come to rest in the middle of an intersection.
The “Crash Zone” software that Grasso demonstrated at the Enfield, Connecticut Police Department, and other high-tech accident reconstruction equipment, was recently made available to local police when they joined forces with six other area departments to form the Metro Traffic Regional Accident Reconstruction Team.
The newly formed traffic unit is part of a broader, statewide trend among police departments to save money and pool investigative resources by regionalizing services.
The impetus for forming this particular unit came from the Avon Mountain crash in 2005, Chief Carl J. Sferrazza said. Four people died in that crash after a dump truck driver lost control of his vehicle and smashed into a commuter bus and cars waiting at a traffic light.
The Enfield Police Department has been working with Metro Traffic Services, a regional traffic enforcement unit, since 2007 and has been able to bring more seatbelt checks, DUI checkpoints, and speed limit enforcement to town at a lower cost.
The new Accident Reconstruction Team, whose first full day of operation was last week, takes regional cooperation and a pooling of resources to the next level, according to Sferrazza.
In addition to Enfield, police officers from Manchester, South Windsor, East Windsor, Vernon, Glastonbury, and Coventry, are also part of the new team, which held its first training day last week to practice with its new equipment.
“In the past we would measure with tape measures and hand draw scale drawings,” Grasso said, referring to the accident reconstruction process.
That was much slower, he explained. It is not uncommon for officers to close a roadway for several hours while they investigate a serious car crash, and it can take well over a month for them to resolve the accident.
“Your typical crash will take upwards of 10 weeks to investigate,” Manchester police Officer Guy Beck said. “This dramatically reduces the amount of time spent at the scene and time spent chasing around other people.”
“This is the next generation of accident investigation,” said Grasso, who works for the Enfield Police Department.
The team practiced with one particular piece of equipment, called Total Station, and plotted points around the parking lot at Green Manor Park on Taylor Road. The information collected by Total Station is then downloaded onto a computer and can be used to digitally recreate a collision, or even a large crime scene or airplane crash.
Officers can even plug in information as specific as the make, model, and color of a car involved, and its recreations are accurate to within a minute fraction of an inch, according to Grasso.
By using this equipment and bringing together officers specially trained in accident investigation, the team hopes to free up roadways faster, conclude cases in a shorter time frame, and bring closure to grieving families.
It also means that when the team is called in to investigate a collision, local police can return to their regular duties, and in the long run that saves money for the member departments and towns.
Sferrazza also said that since the department has joined Metro Traffic Services, the regional enforcement unit, it’s been able to obtain several grants it would not have gotten individually. He added that last year his department was reimbursed by the state Department of Transportation for more than $40,000 in overtime pay used to staff traffic projects.
The team plans to practice monthly and use the equipment to plot parks, intersections, and other public areas in each of the member towns, in order to keep their skills sharpened, Grasso said.
He added, “I hope we never have to use this equipment, but if we do, we’re prepared.”
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