Sunday, 6 July 2008

Crap policing

The Met's deputy commissioner, Paul Stephenson, yesterday emphasised that tackling knife crime was the force's "No 1 priority". Speaking at a Metropolitan Police Authority meeting, he said the gangs and knife crime taskforce would be deployed to the worst-affected of London's 32 boroughs "with immediate effect". Teams of officers have already been deployed to troublespots since the launch of Operation Blunt 2 in May.

In reality Londoners, including teenagers, are far more likely to be injured or killed by a driver than by either a terrorist or a teenager with a knife. But the Metropolitan Police has always been a car supremacist force, very reluctant to enforce any traffic laws. Indeed:

Between 1980 and 2001 numbers of traffic police in London were slashed from 1063 to 646
Currently there are over 33,670 police officers in the Met of whom only 2% (690) work on traffic policing. More than three times the number of individuals were found guilty in court of traffic offences in London in 1984 (230,882) than in 2004 (71,661) There is reluctance by the police to prosecute drivers who injure pedestrians, in the absence of independent witnesses. London drivers are more likely to get away with speeding and other motoring offences than road users in other regions.

Pedestrians and cyclists are at the sharp end of this bigoted policing. Last year in London:

Serious injuries among cyclists rose by 6 per cent . This is attributed partly to the big increase in cycling, which has almost doubled in Greater London in the past seven years. Child deaths are down 28 per cent, but this is partly because fewer children are allowed to walk or cycle on their own to school and other activities.

331 children were killed or seriously injured on London’s road last year – a statistic which attracts none of the outrage or screaming headlines associated with knife crime.

On the roads nationally among teenage pedestrians in 2005: 51 teens aged 11-16 were killed and 1,268 seriously injured; and over 5,500 slightly injured. Add in deaths in cars and cyclists and approximately 133 teens die each year on our roads.

Traffic is the biggest single cause of accidental death for 12-16 year olds. In Britain in 2004, 151 car drivers aged 16-19 were killed.

About one quarter of the cyclists killed, and about one third of those injured, are children. Cycling accidents increase as children grow older and peak at around 16 years. To some extent, this reflects increased cycling as children grow older followed by a switch to motorised transport from the late teens onwards.

What’s more

Since 1985, the average distance children travelled as a car occupant has increased by 70%; the average distance walked has declined by 19%; and the average distance cycled has declined by 58%. Taking into account distance travelled, there are about 50 times more child cyclist deaths (0.55 deaths/10 million passenger miles; 0.32 to 0.89) and nearly 30 times more child pedestrian deaths (0.27 deaths; 0.20 to 0.35) than there are deaths to child car occupants (0.01 deaths; 0.007 to 0.014). In 2003, children from families without access to a vehicle walked twice the distance walked by children in families with access to two or more vehicles.


The number of traffic police in Britain has fallen by 16 per cent in the past decade. With forces relying on speed cameras rather than patrols to keep roads safe, there are fewer police on the roads to attend crash scenes and file reports.

If the police and politicians were interested in saving lives there is a raft of measures which could be quickly taken massively to reduce deaths on the roads. But neither they nor the media have the slightest interest even in technological fixes, such as a system which could automatically reduce a vehicle's speed.