Sara Walsh

SARA WALSH

A newly filed House bill aims to improve crime scene access by permitting the use of vehicle emergency lights for forensic investigators.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, would potentially reduce the amount of time for first responders to clear a crime scene or accident, because their work cannot be finished until after a forensic report is complete.

“There’s kind of a domino effect that if (forensic investigators) are not able to get there and do their work, then traffic can backup,” Walsh said. “Not only could there be a potential for secondary accidents, but then also, it just delays the whole process.”

The Forensic Investigators Emergency Access Act (HB 380) would allow forensic investigators, coroners and medical examiners to display fixed, flashing, or rotating red or red and blue lights on their vehicle when responding to a crime scene or accident.

Current Missouri law does not allow them to do so.

The proposed bill would only give permission for investigators to utilize these lights, but does not allocate funding.

Dale Roberts, executive director of the Columbia Police Officers Association, brought the issue to Walsh’s attention after seeing frustration from his law enforcement colleagues and his neighbor — a forensic investigator.

Law enforcement officers and forensic investigators can receive simultaneous calls to respond to an accident, but the officer would likely arrive on scene while the investigator would still be stuck in resulting traffic.

As investigators often use their personal vehicle to arrive at a scene, they can be mistaken for an impatient bystander rather than a crucial professional.

In conversation with his neighbor, Roberts remembers she laughed and said, “you know, if I try and pull over and pass people on the right shoulder, they’ll pull over and block me, like ‘Oh no, I’m not letting you go. If I can’t go, you can’t go.’”

A study from the University of Iowa found that “police cars are nearly twice as likely to be involved in a traffic accident when they’re in emergency mode than when they are not,” bringing into question whether adding emergency lights will resolve more accidents than create new ones.

Walsh attributed this relationship to police officers responding to incidents at high speeds with their lights on, when in comparison coroners and forensic investigators would only need these resources when approaching residual traffic.

“That’s the point where (the forensic investigator) was saying, ‘I get there, and then I can’t get to the scene to do my job,’” Roberts said.

“So it’s not so much as a, like, emergency response arrival, it’s more like, ‘Okay, I’m here, now let me through.’”

Both Roberts and Walsh described the bill as “common sense” legislation and are optimistic that it will pass with bipartisan support through the House.

  • Fall 2020 State Government reporter. Studying magazine journalism and statistics. Reach me at katrinatroy@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 573-882-5700.

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