Article from Policing Insight replicated here:
Roads policing is back in the news – but police can’t tackle this challenge alone
Charlie Norman, Managing Director, DriveTech
Recent reports from HMICFRS and PACTS have highlighted the important role of roads policing in tackling crime and public safety. But Charlie Norman, managing director of road safety organisation DriveTech, believes that with competing demands for limited resources, partnerships will be the key to meeting often complex challenges.
Roads policing is undoubtedly in the news again. We recently saw an impassioned report from the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) which made a strong case for greater enforcement, and produced a significant list of causes for complaint with current arrangements.
“Unsurprisingly, it found a mixed picture, with many positives found in the largest forces like the Metropolitan Police and West Midlands, but worrying gaps elsewhere”.
This was followed up last month with the HMICFRS report, Roads Policing: Not optional which agreed with much of what PACTS had said – shining a light into many shortcomings in roads policing strategy, partnership, intelligence, resourcing and enforcement. Both reports painted a consistent picture that there was a great deal of room for improvement.
The Inspectorate report, authored by HMI Matt Parr, was without doubt the most comprehensive scrutiny of roads policing in some years.
It did the obvious things – like identifying the correlation between cuts to traffic police numbers and the plateauing of recent reductions and fatalities on the roads. But it also looked deeper, exploring the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) national strategy for policing the roads, and looked into the influence that strategy had had in forces.
Unsurprisingly, it found a mixed picture, with many positives found in the largest forces like the Metropolitan Police and West Midlands, but worrying gaps elsewhere.
It also looked at the way intelligence is used to drive policing activity, because there is an enduring consensus that the purpose of roads policing is at least as much about denying criminals the use of the roads as it is about ‘keeping motorists honest’ when it comes to speed, careful driving and properly functioning equipment.
“It is perhaps unsurprising to see this report calling for more resources for this specialist function. The problem, though, is that roads policing is far from alone in the queue for a boost to staffing levels”.
The report called for chief constables to immediately ensure that the analytical capability required to support effective roads policing was in place. It acknowledged that the police can only ever offer part of the solution and had recommendations for both the Home Office and the Department for Transport to improve strategic co-ordination. There was also strong encouragement to revitalise local partnerships.
At a time when policing is once again in growth mode, it is perhaps unsurprising to see this report calling for more resources for this specialist function. The problem, though, is that roads policing is far from alone in the queue for a boost to staffing levels.
The Inspectorate – never shy about telling chief constables where more money could be spent – has recently published reports highlighting the need for additional resources in the field of serious and organised crime as well as police control rooms.
And the annual State of Policing report from Sir Thomas Winsor, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, highlights the demands caused by public order, flooding emergencies and the mentally ill to name but a few.
Sir Thomas also points out that recruiting more officers may not, on its own, even be the best way of spending a major uplift in police funding, implying that in his view, the 20,000 uplift should not necessarily all be spent on police officer posts.
It’s reasonable to conclude, therefore, that roads policing may not be getting the level of resourcing boost that would be likely to deliver the improvements that HMI Parr is looking for in his report. So, as is always the case when resources are tight, partnership will again be key – at the front end as well as at the level of strategy.
Obviously, this means working with statutory partners, but it also means embracing imaginative approaches, technological innovation and fresh thinking. The report is right to highlight Operation Snap as an excellent initiative: members of the public are encouraged to upload dashcam footage of traffic offences, presenting the police with ready-made evidence of sometimes very serious breaches. But they need to be followed up on to maintain the scheme’s credibility.
Education is an alternative to prosecution
At DriveTech, we are an integral part of another element of effective roads policing, which is that of education – one of the three essential ingredients (enforcement, education, engineering) that have made a difference to safety levels on our roads.
“There is abundant and growing evidence that the use of safety cameras and the offer of education as an alternative to prosecution gives a strong likelihood of behavioural change from drivers without clogging up the courts”.
As providers of speed awareness training, we welcome and endorse the report’s findings that “The reality is that the use of cameras is effective in reducing serious collisions”. There is abundant and growing evidence that the use of safety cameras and the offer of education as an alternative to prosecution gives a strong likelihood of behavioural change from drivers without clogging up the courts.
In a July 2020 survey we sent out questions (in partnership with UKROEd) to 20,000 AA members seeking views and perceptions on the merits of speed cameras and education as part of a proactive strategy to policing the roads.
The survey returned a resounding thumbs up for speed enforcement, with 87% of respondents (from 18,500 returns) wholly in favour of education (speed courses) being offered as an alternative to points and a fine.
As an innovative company, we’re proud to have been able to maintain this service by taking courses online during lockdown: while the press have reported countless examples of motorists using deserted roads as ‘racetracks,’ we have been able to deliver well over 100,000 driver offender retraining interventions online.
There is ample evidence, cited in the report, that cameras are generally used in a targeted way, using clear rationale supported by a process intended to maintain public confidence.
We believe that this is crucially important as the credibility – and the longevity – of the system depends on it. It is in no-one’s interests to see cameras, whether mobile or fixed, deployed in areas where there is no risk-based justification for doing so.
A time for pragmatism
My abiding reflection from reading the report is that, however welcome the renewed focus on roads policing in recent months, it needs to be tinged with pragmatism. With so many competing demands in policing, it is entirely unrealistic to imagine that roads policing will be resourced to the level to which HMICFRS aspire within the medium term.
Yet the challenges of our roads are becoming more complex, with new challenges appearing all the time, from autonomous vehicles to e-scooters. Policing cannot cope alone with this.
It’s vitally important to deepen the partnership working that already exists across the public and private sector, to continue to give the public a role in ‘self-help’ to keep the roads safe, and to embrace innovative new technologies as they become available.
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