Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Metropolitan Police Service (IT 169)




  The Metropolitan Police Service prioritises work according to the key objectives set by the Home Secretary. Thus the priorities for 1998-99 relate to the fight against terrorism, dealing more effectively and expeditiously with young offenders, reducing the incidence of burglary and street crime, increasing the number of arrests for drug offences linked with violent crime or prevalent locations and lastly, providing an appropriate response to emergency calls from the public. There is no direct mention of targeted activity in respect of policing the capital's roads.

Road Policing Strategies

  Whilst road policing is not an objective per se, its importance to London is shown in the Metropolitan Police Service's Traffic Policing Strategy which has two aims. Firstly, to reduce crime and the opportunities for criminal activity in relation to the use of London's roads and, secondly, to work with others to reduce road collisions and to minimise the effects of spontaneous congestion.

  London's road policing strategy has similar aims to that of the national approach as agreed by the ACPO (Traffic) committee. This strategy has as its aim "To secure an environment where the individual can use the roads with confidence, free from death, injury, damage or fear".

Overarching aims and objectives for 1999-2000

  For the next planning year, the Home Office has given the Police Service a series of overarching aims and objectives, some of which link into the strategies mentioned previously. These objectives also contain some of the themes mentioned in the "New Deal for Transport".

  There will now be a specific objective of "contribute to improving road safety and the reduction of casualties" which will assist to achieve the aims of "promote safety and reduce disorder" and "reduce crime and the fear of crime".

Casualty reduction

  This objective will build upon the target set by Government in 1987 to reduce all casualties by one third by the year 2000 in comparison with the average level of road casualties for the years 1981-85.

  Statistics recently released by the London Research Centre in its annual accident report for London show a 1.5 per cent rise in all casualties—a total of 46,015 for 1997 compared with 45,324 for 1996. These increases are less than the figures for Great Britain as a whole, where collisions increased by 1.7 per cent and casualties by 2.3 per cent.

  Despite this increase, by the end of 1997, the total number of casualties within Greater London was 14.9 per cent lower than the base figure—the average annual number of casualties for the period 1981 to 1985. It is also a much greater improvement than that recorded in Great Britain as a whole over the same period where there was an increase of 2 per cent. However the target reduction was intended to be in the region of 33 per cent.

Enforcement activity—the work of the patrolling officer

  It is anticipated that casualty reduction, which is mentioned in the white paper, will be featured in the MPS policing plan for 1999-2000. However other DETR objectives which require police involvement are not specifically covered in the Home Office's aims and objectives. These include better enforcement of bus lanes to improve the speed of public transport, measures to reduce congestion and better policing of badly maintained vehicles which contribute to air pollution through defective exhausts.

  Whilst these issues are not priorities for the police, enforcement activity by patrolling officers does take place and has an impact. In 1997 126,990 "driver reported" fixed penalty notices were issued, of which 74,717 were for endorsable offences. London's courts dealt with 124,878 people prosecuted for summary monitoring offences in 1997.

Enforcement activity—use of technology

  This enforcement activity is complemented by other measures. Road side cameras are proving an effective method of detecting speeding, red light and now bus lanes offences. The Government wants to see an extension of the use of this technology to reduce speed, save lives and improve the environment.

  It is generally accepted that for cameras to constitute an effective deterrent about one in eight sites need to be "live" at any one time. The level within London is presently about one in 20. At present the MPS processes 68,000 cases a year from 550 camera sites. To achieve the one in eight level we would need to process about 300,000 cases per year. The Service is computerising the cost of processing these cases and once complete the average cost per case will be £20.

  The process of speeding offences is not a mandated policing priority for allocation of resources, and has been severely constrained by financial and staffing limitations. If an "Administrative Charge" could be imposed in each case dealt with by a fixed penalty ticket, to recover prosecution costs, this would significantly assist achievement of the goal of processing 300,000 cases per year. This proposal, which has been submitted to Home Office for consideration, would reflect the award of costs at court, which can be ordered when a magistrate convicts an offender. It also follows the principle that the costs of prosecution should be levied against the guilty party (c.f. "the polluter pays"), rather than borne wholly by the entire community. Savings could also be made if legislation permitted a civilian police employee to authorise prosecution in a case which is to be dealt with by a fixed penalty notice, rather than a police officer as required at present.

Use of cameras to control congestion

  Cameras are also being used to control congestion by maximising the use of the available road space. Thus on the M25 there are cameras on gantries which monitor adherence to the variable speed limits. Police are not funded to deal with such traffic management matters. It is outside our core functions of protecting life and property on the roads. Again we would wish to see some reimbursement of the costs incurred in prosecuting offending motorists who are detected by the cameras, through the addition of an Administrative Charge.

Administrative charge for assisting other agencies

  As well as an administrative charge to recover the cost of enforcing offences through the use of cameras, we would also wish to see similar reimbursement of the cost of using an officer to assist other agencies undertake their enforcement duties. An example is emission controls. This environmental issue is outside the core functions of policing the capital. Police presence at these roadside checks merely to stop a vehicle means one less officer available for patrolling London's streets.

Partnership with other agencies

  A number of agencies regularly request police assistance to stop vehicles in order that they may exercise their legal authority to make inspections etc. To make the most efficient use of resources, it is now police practice to organise large-scale "multi agency" checks such as Operation Mermaid. This is a nation-wide initiative aimed at enforcing goods vehicles legislation. Since it started in 1995, 4,697 such vehicles have been stopped in London. This has led to 44 arrests, 391 immediate prohibition notices being issued, and 953 offences relating to driver hours or the condition of the vehicle being detected.

  Such large-scale checks take much planning and are very resource intensive. The use of police officers merely to stop vehicles at small localised checks such as those for pollution monitoring has already been mentioned. This function could be carried out more cost effectively by civilian enforcement staff, for example Traffic Wardens, working under direct police control.

Use of the power to stop vehicles

  We are aware that consideration has been given to allowing other agencies to exercise the power to stop moving vehicles. It is the police contention that this power should always be exercised under direct police control.

  If other agencies were to be given this power without this control it would give rise to much concern and alarm amongst the public. Which agencies would qualify to be given this power, how would they be identified, under what circumstances should it be used, and what powers would they have to take action against a motorist who refused to stop? Where public accountability is less defined than for police officers, what safeguards would be introduced to prevent abuse of this power, and ensure that a civilian stopping his/her car does not breach an individual's civil liberties? For these very compelling reasons Police do not support the power to stop vehicles being given to other bodies.

Use of traffic wardens to stop vehicles

  Police strongly support the granting of this power to stop vehicles to police traffic wardens. They are Metropolitan Police employees and are a conspicuous presence on London's Red Route Network. Giving the Warden Service this additional power would enable them to enforce bus lanes and box junctions which would assist in keeping London's traffic and public transport moving. Given the power to stop, the wardens could replace police officers at the site of the agency checks which would perhaps increase the frequency and effectiveness of these forms of enforcement, releasing officers for more crime orientated patrolling.

Enforcement of waiting and parking restrictions

  Wardens are working in conjunction with local authority parking attendants in tackling congestion albeit in different ways i.e., through the application of civil or criminal law. If roads which are currently decriminalised are re-instated within London's Strategic Route Network, police will require the necessary powers to enforce the relevant regulations. This will be achieved most simply and conveniently by returning the offences to criminal law, thus ensuring consistent enforcement across the Strategic Road Network. Any combination of criminal and civil enforcement action would impose unnecessary additional training demands and more complex administrative procedures, and create anomalies which would confuse the public. In any event Police will be seeking the removal of the need for a police officer to have to lay an information before a summons for an offence is issued.

  Better harmonisation of enforcement activity by police, traffic wardens and local authority parking attendants has a greater impact and produces more consistent enforcement. As well as affecting levels of congestion it could also provide increased information and intelligence flows, thus assisting in reducing crime and the opportunities for criminal activity within the capital.

Management of congestion

  Police officers and traffic wardens will take action in respect of spontaneous congestion in so far as it impacts upon road safety. Long term congestion issues such as that currently experienced by the closure of the Rotherhithe tunnel are not primarily a policing matter.

  We support the creation of a strategy for London aimed at reducing long term congestion. This could be achieved through the establishment of a forum comprising of representatives from London Buses, the Association of London Government, the Parking and Traffic Director for London as well as the Metropolitan Police and other interested parties. As well as tackling the issue of congestion it could also examine other strategic transport matters.

  We would welcome the promotion and greater use of the river Thames for transportation, tourism and leisure. The MPS would wish to join with the Port of London authority and London Rivers Authority in a forum to support this aspiration.

Policing of road freight transport

  To minimise congestion and inconvenience to the motorists, police escort abnormal loads. In 1997 traffic officers in London escorted 1,452 such convoys. Each require a minimum of three officers. The need to devote this amount of resources to assist a load to reach its destination has been the subject of much debate between ACPO (Traffic) and the Home Office. A proposal currently being considered is that suitably trained and qualified private escorts would be required to accompany loads of limited dimensions on motorways and their linking dual carriageways. This would reduce some of the burden upon police officers but there will still be a need to escort abnormal loads through London once they have left the motorway.

  The escorting of these vehicles requires the use of trained officers. The abstraction of traffic officers from normal duties to provide escorts for exceptional abnormal loads would be minimised if the cost of the escort could be attributed directly to the hauliers. The MPS will be exploring this option.

  The policing of the bus and lorry legislation requires a high degree of specialism. Dedicated units across London have been established which concentrate on goods and passenger vehicles. There is a close working relationship with both the Traffic Commissioners and the Vehicle Inspectorate. Using the unit based in east London as an example, in 1997 they compiled 22 company reports for the Traffic Commissioners which led to nine public enquiries against prospective operators. Other work included 120 company visits to check on the roadworthiness of an operators fleet as well as surveillance operations.

Metropolitan Police
24 hour Response and Traffic Portfolio

18 November 1998

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