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Key points (comparing 2019/20 and 2020/21)
- 25 of the 43 police services in England and Wales (E&W) reported an increase in roads policing officers from last year.
- Excluding London, total numbers of roads policing officers rose by 109 (3.4%).
- London reported 46% fewer roads policing officers but this is believed to reflect a more accurate reporting of their overall capacity, rather than an actual reduction.
- Total police numbers in England and Wales (E&W) increased by a greater proportion, rising by 4.7% to over 135,000.
- Roads policing officer numbers as a share of total police fell in 22 police services and rose in 12.
AVZ conclusion. Roads policing officers remain relatively few in number and thin on the ground, especially when shift work is considered. As our joint PCC Manifesto stressed, the police have to prioritise. We believe that this should be done on the basis of the harm posed to other road users, especially those walking and cycling. Third-party reporting of traffic crime will be key to increasing detection of offenders.
Roads policing officer numbers
We start with the positive. A majority (25) of the 43 police services in E&W have reported an increase in roads policing officer numbers. This is the second year of rises. According to statistics published by the Home Office this week, outside of London, roads policing officers rose by 109 to 3,270. These officers are very much needed with the new Highway Code and its road user hierarchy of to be launched this autumn.
Leicestershire saw the biggest relative increase (25%) with another 10 roads policing officers. But Essex reported the largest increase with 27 more roads policing officers (24%). A previous AVZ analysis had identified Essex Police as a top performing police service in officer-detected priority sanctions (speeding, careless driving, and mobile phone offences). It is good to see that they have increased their roads policing capacity and will be able to undertake even more enforcement.
Many of the other police services reported only small increases (1-3 officers).
Declines were seen in nine police services, including Cleveland where a loss of eight officers represented a cut of 32%. Another two police services reported five fewer officers (North Yorkshire and Lancashire) whilst others suffered smaller cuts.
Table 1 shows the changes in roads policing officers by police service and region. Those reporting an increase are highlighted in green whilst red marks a decrease. Data shown in all tables and figures is from the Home Office Police Workforce statistics, published at the end of July 2021.
The changes in numbers in London needs explanation. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) reported a fall from 1,474 to 822 roads policing officers, a decrease of 43%. This is not believed to represent a cut in actual roads policing officers but a more accurate reporting of roles.
And this was needed. In 2015, TfL reported a huge increase in roads policing when the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) launched its Roads and Transport Policing Command, reportedly the largest in Europe with over 2,300 officers. But this included many officers allocated to other duties in London, including diplomatic protection and the Safer Transport Teams, the latter investigate crime on public transport, including assaults and sexual violence. These are important roles but do not qualify as roads policing roles. Road danger reduction campaigners had called on the MPS to correct their reported roads policing officer numbers so this change is welcomed as it is more accurate.
Total police and share of road policing
Table 1: Roads Policing officers (2019/20-2020/21) – Source: Home Office (2021)
Figure 1: Roads Policing share of total police (2020/21) – Source: Home Office (2021)
Share of total police
Now the downside. Total police numbers rose faster. With a 4.7% increase, total police in E&W rose to over 135,000 officers. This was reported to be the largest increase since 2004. This meant that the relative share of roads policing officers decreased in the last year in E&W from 3.6% to 3.0% for E&W or from 3.3% to 3.2% if London is excluded.
As shown in Table 1, in 22 police services, the share of roads policing officers fell. Only in 12 police services did the relative share of roads policing rise.
The Home Office issues caveats about their data. It is supposed to refer to full time staff equivalents (FTE) but roads policing can be a shared role with armed policing. And regional collaborations can also distort the picture.
For example, Lincolnshire Police is part of the East Midlands Police merger and has previously reported only one roads policing officer. This year it has reported no staff assigned to roads policing. This does not mean there is no roads policing in Lincolnshire, but that it is being done by armed police officers or officers from neighbouring police services. Lincolnshire has been left off the following graphs for this reason.
It is worth noting that the East Midlands region had the lowest share of all police regions with only 1.8% of total officers assigned to roads policing. (See Table 1). And that Marc Jones, Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has just been named the new Chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners.
Police and Crime plans and priorities
PCCs have begun developing or updating their police and crime plans. Action Vision Zero is campaigning for the calls in our joint PCC election manifesto to be included. Key calls included work with the community, including with third party reporting (Operation Snap).
The limited number of roads policing officers highlights the urgency and relevance of these calls. See Figure 2 for a reminder of just how few roads policing officers there are in most police services. And then remember that most, but not all, roads police work on the road (See Table 2). And traffic units officers work in shifts so just a fraction of these numbers will be available at any one time.
Police need the support of the community in detecting traffic offences, including with Operation Snap and Community Speed Watch. Community support is also key to reminding PCCs of the local demand for more traffic law enforcement.
There is growing awareness of this. The National Police Chief Council has recently issued recommendations on third-party reporting of traffic crime, intended to promote consistency across the country, and encourage all police services to participate. Lincolnshire Police was a recent joiner with its introduction of a third-party reporting scheme earlier this year.
Contact Action Vision Zero if you would like to campaign for your local police and crime plan to make best use of their limited resources and ensure they prioritise reducing road danger. Email: email@example.com
Table 2: Roads Policing, England and Wales (2020/21) – Source: Home Office (2021)
Figure 2: Roads Policing officers (FTE) (2020/21) – Source: Home Office (2021)