The call went out Monday for retired or off-duty New Orleans police officers looking to make extra money working as traffic accident investigators.
That comes as a private company is set to begin handling the tedious, time-consuming process of investigating fender benders and other minor crashes.
On Scene Services is the company that will soon send out traffic agents to accident scenes. The Cantrell administration awarded OSS a contract last May, almost two years after the Landrieu administration pitched the idea as a way to free up NOPD officers to handle serious crimes.
"What we're doing is we're alleviating some of that pressure on law enforcement by providing this service for a more pleasant experience for the motoring public, gathering significantly more data at the scene than is normally gathered and making that data available to all parties and insurers within hours of the wreck," said OSS founder and CEO Ethan Cheramie.
The off-duty or retired officers, who will wear OSS uniforms but work for subcontractor Pinnacle Security, will collect information at accident scenes; send it to the NOPD, which will determine fault and issue any possible tickets; and keep all of the records, which can then be sold to insurance companies or attorneys.
Cheramie said the contract will cost the city nothing. But the company will make its money through the sale of the information it collects at the scene, such as photos, video statements, drone video, and on-board data collected from vehicles.
He declined to say how much that might cost in particular, but said it would at least be several hundred dollars. The job listing for full-time traffic agents says they can make between $41,600 and $52,000.
Basic NOPD traffic accident reports will still be available from the department for far less.
The traffic agents, who must be certified law-enforcement officers, will be dispatched through the city’s 911 center. Chris Reade, OSS’s chief technology officer, said that the six to eight units will be tracked by GPS and stationed in certain parts of the city where data show accidents happen at certain times of the day.
He said it’s important to keep officers as those who respond to accidents given their nature.
"You have never worked a traffic scene, and neither have I,” he said. “And it's a very tense situation and there's a lot of expertise from the police officers responding, which is why OSS uses police officers, because they already know the job."
Part of the idea for using an outside company to respond to traffic accidents was to reduce the time people have to wait, given the NOPD’s strained manpower.
Reade said that after OSS began a pilot program in January, driver had had to wait about an hour-and-a-half to get back on the road after an accident. He hopes that number will decrease once the full fleet of OSS units are on the road and operating in the next 60 to 90 days.
“Right now, with an NOPD officer response, it’s going to be two hours and seven minutes on average,” he said.
The city’s initial request for proposals called for a company that would only respond to accidents without injury and those that do not include DWI’s.
The NOPD and Cheramie said that if a crash does involve an impaired driver, there are protocols in place to get an on-duty officer on the scene to begin an investigation.
Cheramie said the NOPD will still respond to the most serious calls, such as fatalities.
"But for the number of calls a day, which is in excess of 40 calls a day, we're going to be the primary response on behalf of the city."