Sunday, 23 March 2008

The petrolhead’s copper

One troubling aspect of our society is the freedom given to chief police constables to pursue any agenda they feel like. Thus:

Paul Garvin, Durham’s Chief Constable, refuses to install a single fixed speed camera, arguing that they don’t target the real cause of accidents, while Richard Brunstrom, the Chief Constable of North Wales, enforces them rigorously.

And the result?

Road deaths in North Wales declined by 13 per cent last year. In Durham they rose by 56 per cent, to 42.

“Safety cameras are phenomenally successful,” says Brunstrom. “There is no question that they bring down speed. We have four times the number of people killed on the roads every year as get murdered. We must not lose sight of that . . . or the trauma to the families involved.”

Durham argues that alienating the public is counterproductive. A spokesman, Martin Wallwork, says that the force prefers an educational approach, telling motorists where they are going wrong.

‘Education’ as a cure for motoring carnage is utterly discredited and is the favourite tool of the road and car lobby:

The Global Road Safety Partnership emphasised better training for drivers and better safety education for children. These measures do not interfere with the commercial interests of the transport industry. Neither, according to peer-reviewed papers Professor Roberts cites, do they work.

The death of Mike Todd, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, generated acres of coverage. But it says a lot about the Green lobby that there was no critical discussion of his soft and prejudiced attitudes to motoring criminality. This had a long history:

THE METROPOLITAN Police is refusing to increase the number of speed cameras in line with national guidelines because it fears their proliferation will turn otherwise law-abiding citizens against the police. Scotland Yard's decision has put it at odds with rural constabularies which are supportive of the scheme to triple the number of roadside cameras.

Assistant Commissioner Michael Todd, in charge of territorial policing in London, said: "We do not believe in pursuing speed enforcement for the sake of it. I think it could alienate the public and potential witnesses to crimes. I am worried people will take the view that the police are doing this to make money.”

Todd was a prejudiced ignoramus. The idea that traffic policing alienates the public has long been discredited by sociological studies. In Todd’s warped vision of the world ‘the public’ equals ‘drivers with convictions for motoring offences’. And the notion that speed cameras are only there to make money is an urban myth promoted by the gutter press. Yet, revealingly, this not very bright cop went straight to the top:

In 2006 he became the vice-chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the politically powerful group of senior officers that help set policy across constabularies.

Todd was the darling of the petrolhead lobby:

One of his first moves after becoming chief constable of Greater Manchester Police in 2002 was to get 200 officers off traffic duties and into the battle against street crime.

This assumes that motoring offences are not crimes.

He criticised the trend towards fining motorists for marginal speeding offences, saying that if the police were "racing round" fining people for going three miles above the speed limit, "[the public] will think we are mad".

That's another urban myth.

His no-nonsense attitude earned him respect on all levels and he was a rarity among police chiefs, despairing at political correctness and passionate about pursuing criminals rather than motorists. His force became the only one in the country that made a loss from its speed cameras.

It’s interesting to look at the 2006 injury statistics for Todd’s patch:

Accident rates in Greater Manchester are slightly higher on motorways and considerably higher on A roads than the national average.

That, I suspect, is a consequence of Todd’s reluctance to enforce traffic law.

Luckily the Government has reduced the power of the police to determine if speed cameras should be introduced, transferring them to local authorities. How very interesting to discover that in Greater Manchester

All injury accidents fell by nearly a quarter at new camera sites compared to a fall of 17% in the rest of the county.

Those at the sharpest end of reduced traffic policing are the most vulernable. Thus in Greater Manchester

Pedal cycle casualties in Greater Manchester accounted for almost 7% of all casualties in 2006 and 30% of those were children. The number of pedal cyclists KSI is small in comparison to other groups, the number rose by 5% to 90 in 2006; the highest level since 2000, following a 10% rise in 2005. Adults make up the majority of cycle KSIs (69 of the 90 in 2006) and the increase in 2006 was wholly among adults, while for children the numbers fell (to 21 KSIs in 2006).

Pedestrian casualties in Greater Manchester accounted for 16% of all casualties in 2006 and almost 38% of those were children. Pedestrians accounted for about 46% of deaths and 39% of serious injuries in 2006.

Todd’s style of policing also discriminated against the poorest members of society:

In general, casualties involved in accidents in Greater Manchester are likely to live in the more deprived areas of the county. The Ordsall area in Salford has double the countywide average per population for all casualties. This rises to nearly three times the countywide average for child casualties. Other areas with high numbers of child casualties per child population are Harpurhey/Moston in Manchester, Denton in Tameside, Gorton/Ryder Brow in Manchester and Platt Bridge in Wigan.

Source ( PDF format )

Having for years blocked the introduction of speed cameras in Manchester and massively reduced traffic policing, how did Mike Todd choose to get around the city? You guessed – a 4X4. His dangerous and prejudiced style of policing put the most vulnerable – children, cyclists and pedestrians – at risk, but he was not prepared to share those risks himself. Instead he preferred the protection offered by a Range Rover.