Do you want to be like Gomer?

Published 4:12 pm Thursday, June 15, 2023

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In my mind, I can see Gomer chasing Barney on foot while shouting “citizen’s arrest, citizen’s arrest” at the top of his lungs.

I would assume that the majority of the eyes reading this column today can relate to that previous sentence. For those of you oblivious to what I’m referencing, here’s a brief history of a particular episode of the Andy Griffin Show.

In season 4 (1963) of the all-time TV classic, Deputy Barney Fife (played by Don Knotts) performs a traffic stop in downtown Mayberry on Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) and gives him a ticket for making an improper u-turn. In typical Barney fashion, he lectures Gomer of the dangers of making such a traffic maneuver and says that any law-abiding citizen can “call-out” any driver they see making a similar move on a public street or highway.

After handing Gomer the ticket, Deputy Fife returns to his patrol car and then makes a u-turn in an effort to return to the courthouse. Gomer quickly exits his pick up truck and runs across the street while yelling “citizen’s arrest, citizen’s arrest.”

What prompted me to think of this particular episode was an article I read last week on WRAL’s website. It was titled: Traffic crashes could soon be investigated by civilians in North Carolina.

Did you know that the North Carolina General Assembly is considering the start-up of a training program that will allow average citizens to be hired to investigate minor traffic accidents that do not involve personal injury?

House Bill 140 – an act authorizing cities to employ and allow civilian personnel to investigate traffic crashes involving only property damage – was supported unanimously last week by the North Carolina Senate. If the North Carolina House of Representatives does the same this week, the bill will head to Governor Roy Cooper for his signature and become law.

WRAL reported that State Sen. Michael Lazzara (R-Onslow) said the legislation would help cities struggling with staffing shortages in their police departments. He said Fayetteville and Wilmington have used civilian traffic investigators for years without a problem, so they decided to expand that authority statewide.

“This is just a way that we can help cities and towns fill the gap and have availability for officers to respond to actual emergency calls, rather than take their time to be at a traffic accident that can normally take several hours to complete,” Lazzara told WRAL News.

The bill would require investigators to go through a training program designed by the North Carolina Justice Academy, followed by at least four weeks out in the field with a police officer. They would wear a different uniform and would not carry a sidearm. Their vehicle lights wouldn’t be blue.

House Bill 140 amends Article 21 of Chapter 160A of the North Carolina General Statutes by adding a new section to read as follows:

160A-499.6. Civilian Traffic Investigators

A city may employ and allow civilian personnel to investigate traffic crashes. The civilian personnel shall be known as “Civilian Traffic Investigators” (hereinafter “Investigator” or “Investigators”). The employment or use of Investigators, either full-time or part-time, shall not supplant or replace any of the city’s existing sworn law enforcement officer personnel or otherwise reduce the number of sworn law enforcement officers employed by a city.

All of the following shall apply to Investigators authorized in subsection (a) of this section:

The city shall establish the minimum standards for employment as an Investigator. Each Investigator shall attend a training program designed by the North Carolina Justice Academy. Upon completion of the training program, each Civilian Traffic Investigator shall spend not less than four weeks of field training with a law enforcement officer who has experience conducting traffic crash investigations. Each Investigator shall be issued credentials by the city identifying the individual as a Civilian Traffic Investigator. The Investigator shall produce official credentials at any time when requested by a member of the public involved in or a witness to a crash.

Investigators shall be issued a uniform that is substantially different in color and style from that of a law enforcement officer for the city. The uniform shall have patches that clearly identify the individual as an Investigator, and the individual’s name shall be clearly displayed on the uniform. Investigators shall not be issued badges.

Any vehicles issued to, or used by, an Investigator shall not bear markings or symbols that identify the vehicle as a police vehicle. The vehicle may have emergency equipment and lights installed but shall not use blue lights in any manner or form. Red and amber lights are permissible.

Investigators shall not be issued a weapon of any type. Investigators shall have no authority to arrest or issue criminal process.

Investigators shall investigate crashes involving only property damage. Investigators shall comply with all provisions of G.S. 20-166.1. A report completed by an Investigator shall be treated the same as if it were completed by a law enforcement officer for purposes of G.S. 20-166.1(i).

A [regular, sworn] law enforcement officer shall investigate any crash involving personal injury or a fatality.

Investigators shall have the same authority as a law enforcement officer to tow or remove a vehicle that is obstructing a public street or highway.

The North Carolina Justice Academy shall develop a uniform statewide training program for Civilian Traffic Investigators. This training shall be available to Civilian Traffic Investigators employed by any municipality pursuant to G.S. 160A-499.6.

Hendersonville Police Chief Blair Myhand told WRAL News that he estimates this legislation, if approved, would save his small department about 1,000 officer-hours a year. He added that approximately 50 percent of motor vehicle mishaps in his city are “parking lot crashes.”

So, for you “Gomers” out there, here’s a chance to write a “citizen’s citation!”

 Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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