NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Responding to criticism, the NYPD has begun responding to traffic crashes where the injuries are serious but not fatal.

Previously, crash investigators were summoned only when at least one victim had died or was “likely to die.”

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“Often when there’s a serious crash and a victim is on life support, in the past the police department didn’t investigate that collision until the person died and the longer you wait the colder the case gets,” said Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives.

The New York Times reports that Commissioner Raymond Kelly outlined the change in protocol to the City Council last week.

Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne told 1010 WINS the NYPD received criticism for restricting the use of specially-trained investigators to fatal cases, but said the department couldn’t act more promptly because resources were stretched thin.

The NYPD has now been able to apply specialized investigations to a broader range of car crashes following a decline in fatalities.

“We’re down in head count by 6,000 police officers from 2001, so the fact that we didn’t have the head count, the decline in fatalities helped us in this regard,” Browne said.

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Dozens of investigations under the new policy have been conducted since September.

The department also will begin using the term “collision” instead of “accident.” Kelly said “accident” sometimes gave the false connotation that there was no fault or liability.

The commissioner said the department also will increase the size of the collision squad and revise its patrol guide to reflect which crashes should be investigated.

“These investigations are necessary in order to sustain criminal charges or civil suits and really to bring justice for more victims of traffic crimes,” Budnick said.

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