Saturday, July 20, 2024

No citation in ‘distracted’ Wilmington police officer crash, city ‘safety committee’ will review instead

According to the police department, city employees involved in traffic crashes frequently don't receive moving vehicle violations. Instead, they are investigated and, if necessary, disciplined by the city's safety committee.

The Wilmington Police Department officer who wrecked while driving distracted won't receive a traffic citation, according to the department. (Port City Daily photo / File)
The Wilmington Police Department officer who wrecked while driving distracted won’t receive a traffic citation, according to the department. (Port City Daily photo / File)

WILMINGTON — The Wilmington police officer who crashed his police cruiser last month won’t receive a moving violation. According to the police department, that’s because officers are held to a “different, higher standard” than residents.

Related: Wilmington police officer distracted by mobile device rear-ends vehicle, Internal Affairs reviewing crash

On Tuesday, Jan. 15, Wilmington Police Department officer Nicholaus R. Kuzian was driving in rush-hour traffic when he struck a vehicle stopped at a red light near the intersection of South College Road and New Centre Drive. Kuzian later stated he was looking at his vehicle’s on-board laptop and did not notice traffic had stopped; according to an incident report he had little time to brake and struck the stopped vehicle at over 30 miles per hour.

Another WPD officer, responding to the crash, found that Kuzian was responsible for the crash, which caused $2,000 in damage to a victim’s car and rendered his police cruiser inoperable (it was towed to the New Hanover County government center with approximately $3,500 in damage). According to the incident report, Kuzian was “driving distracted” and failed to reduce his speed.

Kuzian, who is still on medical leave due to a leg injury sustained in the crash, did not receive a moving violation.

According to WPD Public Affairs Officer Linda Rawley Thompson, who spoke with Port City Daily to discuss the situation, this is in keeping with the policy of the department, and the city.

“The way the police department, and the city, the way we handle officer-involved accidents, once an officer is involved in an accident, and it’s been shown it’s their fault – or not, an investigation is conducted through IA [Internal Affairs],” Thompson said. “Was there any law broken, was there any policy violation, as far as the department is concerned.”

According to Thompson, if an officer – or any city employee – is found to be at fault in a vehicular accident, the City of Wilmington’s safety committee reviews the incident. The committee assigns “points,” according to Thompson, based on the severity of the incident.

“The city has a safety program, if you’re involved in an accident, you get points… if you chalk up enough points, you lose driving privileges,” Thompson said. “Depending on what kind of driving history, and what you’ve done, it also impacts your evaluation — meaning it messes with your money.”

Officers who go through the IA and safety committee process are not usually issued citations, even if they are found to have been at fault.

“A lot of times you may not see us cite the officer, because we have to go through so much more than the average citizen,” Thompson said.

Thompson noted that employees who “rack up” enough points can ultimately lose their jobs, and added that the incidents do follow officers who leave the department, saying that the safety committee reports are sent to the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles.

The Wilmington Police Department is currently compiling its 2018 safety report, due to be delivered to City Council in several weeks, according to Thompson.

“In 2017, officers were involved in about 66 motor vehicle crashes, doesn’t mean they caused them all, but they were involved — and this last year we went from 66 to 59,” Thompson said.

Thompson said both the city and WPD take employee crashes very serious, but noted that “with over 200 sworn officers, and hundreds of city employees, we have a lot of vehicles on the road. Accidents will happen […] We take traffic crashers seriously, whether our officers are at fault or not, driving is essential to us being able to do our jobs. We go a step further. We investigate it internally, a safety committee reviews it,” Thompson said.


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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