Serious Crash Unit gets boost

Serious Crash Unit. Photo: ODT files.
Serious Crash Unit. Photo: ODT files.
A burgeoning workload is driving a resourcing boost for Southern police tasked with investigating serious crashes.

The Southern district’s three Serious Crash Unit investigators, who cover the entire lower half of the South Island, between them have 45 open investigations.

A recently retired investigator said resourcing needed to double, and he could be about to get his wish.

The South has investigators based in Dunedin, Invercargill and Central Otago. They operate on a weekly on-call roster, meaning they can be called out to crashes in the middle of the night and weekends in areas hundreds of kilometres from where they are based.

Until October last year, that was Alastair Crosland’s job.

He had been a crash investigator since the mid-1980s, and based in Alexandra since the end of 2007.

While the workload was manageable between the three staff, the area they covered was too large, he said.

"The size of the district is the issue. Ideally, you’d probably need about six."

It was rare to deal with more than one crash a day, but it did occasionally happen.

On one New Year’s Day, he attended three crashes: one in Dunedin, one in The Catlins and one in Kingston.

"There was a fair bit of driving that day."

While he was working, investigators tended to have four or five cases they were actively working on, while other cases could remain open for a variety of reasons after the initial investigation.

One case he had from 2013 was only closed this year, due to claims, counterclaims and appeals.

Increasing pressure on crash investigators seems now to be acknowledged.

In Otago, 2020 was the worst year for road deaths in more than a decade with 25, while in Southland the tally was 13.

Acting Southern road policing manager Senior Sergeant Greg Ballantyne said three staff were shadowing the three investigators to learn the role.

How the resourcing would be formalised in the future was unclear, but the emphasis on increasing coverage for investigations was due to the increasing number of serious and fatal crashes on southern roads, he said.

He described the change as "bloody brilliant".

"There has been more work for them."

If staff were called out there were options available to them, such as staying in a hotel overnight before returning home, he said.

Police Association vice-president Mike McRandle welcomed the potential for increased resourcing, saying staff had a big area to cover.

Funding for the Serious Crash Unit is allocated from the Road Safety Partnership Programme and comes from the National Land Transport Fund.

Resourcing is decided at a district level.

As of March 31, there were 60 Serious Crash Unit investigators nationally.

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