Roads policing on the rise

Let’s start the new year with some good news. Roads policing was on the rise in England and Wales in 2020.  We had:

But it wasn’t just the topic that received more priority. In 2020, the number of roads police also increased. The Home Office reported the number of roads policing officers rose to 4,615, up 200 compared to 2019.  This is the first time they have risen since 2015. PACTS has warned that comparisons should not be made prior to 2015 as the Home Office changed their classifications.

Where did the rise happen?

According to the Home Office, of the 43 police services, 25 reported an increase in the numbers of roads policing officers, ranging from 56 more officers in Greater Manchester Police to increases of one additional officer in Derbyshire, Dyfed-Powys and Leicestershire.

Amongst the 17 police services reporting a decrease, North Yorkshire had the largest drop with a loss of 16 roads policing officers.

As police services often work in collaboration with other police services in their region, the numbers reported by individual police services can be misleading. For instance, whilst Norfolk reported a loss of three roads policing officers, Suffolk reported an increase of 17 so there was a net gain for the area covered under their collaboration.

Yorkshire and the Humber region was the only overall police region to report a loss of roads policing officers with 17 fewer than the year before.  The number of roads policing officers in 2019/20 by police regions are shown in red in the graph below.

Source: Home Office (2020)

Size of roads policing units

Roads policing units ranged from 17 in North Yorkshire to up to 1,454 in the Metropolitan Police Service, with Greater Manchester Police next largest at 192. Note that the number of roads policing officers working at any one time might be between one-fourth and one-third of the total, given shift working, annual leave, training and sick leave. 

Roads policing vs traffic

The Home Office reports some 75 police officer functions which are organised into 10 categories. Road policing is one such category with five specific functions:

  • Traffic units
  • Traffic wardens/Police Community Support Officers-Traffic
  • Vehicle Recovery
  • Casualty Reduction Partnership
  • Road policing Command Team

Traffic units typically account for over 95% of roads policing officers.

Share of total police

In England and Wales, roads policing officers accounted for 3.6% of total police numbers. By police region, this ranged from a low of 1.8% in the East Midlands region to 4.5% for the London region and 4.3% for Wales.

Source: Home Office (2020)

Despite the recent rise, this is much lower than roads policing share used to be, with PACTS reporting traffic units accounting for 7% of total police in 1998 and 15-20% in 1966.

And we need to remember that the Home Office reports the number of authorised posts. Not all will have been filled and many roads policing officers, as was outlined in both the HMICFRS and PACTS reports, will be “double hatting”. The Home Office warned of this with small police services, giving Lincolnshire as an example where roads policing was also responsible for armed policing, and so the numbers may not be reliable for comparison. For this reason, we have left Lincolnshire out of our charts.

Going forward in 2021

Action Vision Zero is campaigning for a rethink on roads policing with greater priority given to reducing danger on our roads. We have worked with RoadPeace and 20’s Plenty for Us to develop a joint Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) manifesto for the May 2021 elections in conjunction too with British Cycling, Cycling UK, Living Streets, Road Danger Reduction Forum and Sustrans.

Want to know more?

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