Monday, July 12, 2004

Poor old plod

Extracts from the POLICE magazine - "The Voice of the Service" from March 2004. The plods are as unhappy as we are. But note the very last paragraph!

POLICE asked traffic officers to give us their views on the current state of roads policing. Many did so. Almost unanimously, they deplored the low priority that chief officers have given to their role. Here is just a small selection of their opinions.

"Once we were the Flagship"

When I joined the West Yorkshire Traffic Department more than 20 years ago, we were seen as the flagship of the force. We had state of the art vehicles and equipment. We had our own rank structure, up to ACC level.

The rot started when Central Traffic was devolved to divisions. We were no longer specialists and the vehicles were downgraded, for financial reasons.

Today, the highest ranking road traffic officer is an Inspector, of whom there are three. Road policing issues are ignored when call handling and response times are measured.

Road deaths in England and Wales are the equal of a fully laden Jumbo falling out of the sky every month, yet we tolerate these deaths as if they were normal.

"The cuts have led to roads mayhem"

In my 15 years as a traffic officer in Greater Manchester I have seen experienced colleagues retire and not be replaced, with all the loss of knowledge and skills that this entails. I have seen other traffic officers diverted to deal with crime. This has led to accidents going through the roof, a huge increase in unfit vehicles on the roads, the worst ever standards of driver behaviour.

We are told that the speed cameras cut accidents. They are not about safety; they are all about revenue.

We are required to cut road deaths by 50 per cent by 2010. With traffic officer numbers down by 2,500 this year, we have more chance of having tea with the Pope than achieving that result.

"We have stopped policing traffic"

Nottinghamshire used to have a strong Traffic department, dedicated to saving lives and catching criminals on the roads. We also had a reputation for leading the drive against drinking and driving. In 2002 we have ceased to police the roads. Traffic, and even the motorcycle section, were disbanded. We were supposed to turn to the new concept of roads policing, but this is the very last thing we do. We are an Armed Response Vehicle unit. Traffic officers who were not AFOs were transferred to divisions. All we have left is Crash Investigation (for non-fatals) and a small Motorway Unit which does not work nights on the M1.

The A1 is covered by drivers without traffic training or experience. If lucky, they have had a one day course in coning accidents and basic safety. How long will it be before an officer is killed or maimed? There is no proactive policing on our roads. Lorries no longer get stopped. If we arrest a drunken or disqualified driver, it doesn't count towards an SPP, but shop lifiting and minor domestic assaults do. The speed cameras only affect the honest drivers who register their vehicles. I cannot believe that our Chief, who was the Head of ACPO roads policing (!) has got away with this.

"We are expendable"

I was a traffic officer in my predominantly rural force for many years and enjoyed the work. After serving in a different role for some years, I have recently gone back to what is now called roads policing.

The will and enthusiasm of my colleagues is still there, but the support and leadership has disappeared. The buzz words in this force are "intelligence led policing" and "denying criminals the use of the roads". From where we are, they are just words. How can we be intelligence led when there is nobody to respond to intelligence? How can we deny criminals the use of the roads when we have virtually no traffic patrols to target travelling criminals?

I strongly support ANPR but it is intelligence led, and relies for intelligence on the very patrols that now are not there. Our depleted numbers are seen as a pool whose officers can be detached to other only one "traffic" key performance indicator: reducing fatal and serious injury accidents.

"Unacceptable pressures on motorways"

The Kent motorway network is policed by a dedicated unit which has gone down from 250 to 100 officers. Those officers are facing unacceptable pressures to cope with incidents, travelling huge distances to respond to calls, with little prospect of back-up if it is required.

The new Highways Agency traffic force will run into problems because of low staffing and it will be largely reactive. Will its arrival see still further cuts in traffic police officers?

The Road Deaths Investigation Manual mirrors the CID Murder manual. How many forces comply with its requirements today?

"We are an expensive luxury"

Our once admired traffic department in Gwent is now seen as an expensive luxury, hence the change to Roads Policing Unit. The lack of investment in staff and other resources means that vital training is constantly cancelled or delayed, such as driver training, the stinger, speed enforcement/ video equipment, traffic law, Hazchem, even firearms training for ARVs.

We do not target the very area that we should do, not because of a lack of enthusiasm, but a lack of focus. There are no targets for traffic enforcement, it is all about prisoners and detected crimes. I can't remember the last time someone in authority in Gwent asked why accidents were up and what we were doing about it.

Part of the problem is the way our supervisors are appointed.. In the past, supervisors worked their way up within the department, now they are appointed from outside, with little or no traffic background. These supervisors are expected to take decisions and give instructions to experienced traffic officers. When they do learn what it is all about, they move on somewhere else.

A contrary view.

I am an inspector in a traffic unit. Traffic departments were seen as a pool of officers who could easily be used to target the national PIs. Senior officers fail to understand the contribution we could make to all these areas because the title "traffic" implies that we only deal with traffic. The only traffic PI (performance indicator) is reducing fatalities and serious accidents. These have fallen each year, not because of police action, but through better vehicle design and road engineering.

Traffic departments have had a very narrow outlook and because the majority of staff are long in service they are resistant to change. By adopting new technology such as ANPR we can embrace the national intelligence model whilst maintaining traffic specialities. Speed cameras target law abiding citizens who tax and insure their cars. The public knows we do very little about the uninsured and unlicensed drivers because they are so difficult to trace. Sixty per cent of the drivers we stop have no insurance.

We are told to engage with the public. We used to do that through dealing with motoring offenders. By dealing with them by giving advice, warnings, or process, we often made a positive impression. Now we have inanimate cameras. Some aspects of traffic policing have become very complex, requiring specialist knowledge. We should not be training police officers to be mechanics, but employing specialists to examine vehicles on our behalf. duties as and when needed. Traffic are deemed to be an expendable resource. The bosses reassure us that we are valued. We joined traffic to stay there. The bosses joined us, hoping to move somewhere else. And don't ask me how my morale is!

"The wrong managers"

I am a RPU (not Traffic) sergeant in West Midlands. Every day I see appallingly bad driving and poorly maintained vehicles. The consequences of these is deaths on the roads. Last October, for example, we had four fatal and two very serious injury accidents. This was akin to four murder investigations being run simultaneously by one sergeant and eight constables. I believe there are three reasons for the state we are in.

The first is the low priority given at both national and local level, to all traffic policing matters. I know ACPO now accepts this, but things have gone too far to be fixed in a hurry and a few words in the National Policing Plan. We do not enforce traffic legislation. BCU commanders concentrate resources on national targets set by the Government. There is only one "traffic" key performance indicator: reducing fatal and serious injury accidents.

Secondly, the public has become alienated from the police. The public supported "traffic cops" even if they were wary, because they could see the value of our work. Speed cameras have made the police the enemy of the motorist, even if we have nothing to do with them. They are seen as the police making money.

My third reason is the current standard of police driving. Most Panda drivers have only a one-day test involving 2 hours driving, in place of the old 4 weeks course. Yet the public expects a Panda driver to be a first class driver, and have the best and most powerful cars on the roads.


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