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Key points (2021/22)
- The numbers of Roads Policing officers increased to 4,102, up by 11 officers (0.3%).
- Half of police services reported an increase.
- As a share of total police numbers, roads policing fell slightly to 3%. Total police numbers increased by 4%.
- This does not bode well for enforcement or collision investigation, key work of roads policing.
- More investment in roads policing is required if roads are to be made safer, especially for those walking and cycling.
Roads policing officers by police service/region (England and Wales)
The Home Office has published the latest statistics on police workforce (year ending March 2022). The results are not encouraging for roads policing. In England and Wales., roads policing officer numbers rose to 4,102, an increase of 11 officers. The Metropolitan Police Service which reported a loss of 46 officers. Excluding the Met, roads policing officers rose by 2% in England and Wales.
In comparison, total police officer numbers increased by 4% to 135,031 police officers. Whilst small, this increase was still over 10 times that for roads policing officers.
Home Office data caveats
The Home Office statistics contain warnings about the data, including:
- Comparisons at force level should be made with caution due to regional collaborations. Additionally, police functions data are often affected by re-structuring within police forces. Therefore, comparisons over time for specific functions should be made with caution.
- Some smaller forces (e.g. Lincolnshire) have employees who work within units whose function is to provide both roads policing and armed policing, therefore comparisons over time and between forces for the functions ‘Traffic Units’ (4a) and ‘Firearms Unit’ (5h) should be made with caution.
Lincolnshire had previously reported no roads policing officers but now reports 30, including 20 in a new dedicated roads policing unit.
In London, TfL reports over 2,000 officers in their Roads Policing and Transport Command (RTPC) but this includes many officers assigned to patrol buses and transport stations, with a focus on other crime, including sexual offences.
Police service and region
As usual with roads policing, there was inconsistency across the country. Half of police services increased roads policing officer numbers whilst the others reported decreases. This ranged from the Greater Manchester Police which reported an increase of 70 officers whilst Lancashire Police had a loss of 50 officers. Table 1 shows the change in officers and percentage change.
Table 1: Roads Policing officers, England and Wales 2020/21-2021/22
Size of police service
Roads policing officers range from 13 reported in Northamptonshire to 776 in the Met. Figure 1 shows the distribution of roads policing officers by police service. Two-thirds of all police services (29) report having fewer than 100 roads policing officers.
And it cannot be forgotten that these statistics are for the equivalent of full-time roads policing officers. When shift work, training, leave and sick days are factored in, there are much fewer on the ground at any one time.
Share of total police
Overall, roads policing fell to only 2.9% of total police numbers. Cumbria reported the highest share at 5.8%.
It has been over two years since the HMICFRS published its report recommending that roads policing become a strategic national requirement. The Home Office has yet to respond. And whilst most Police and Crime Commissioners reference road safety in their police and crime plans, these statistics show that significant investment in roads policing has yet to happen.
Roads policing officer roles
The Home Office reports the number of officers assigned in Roads Policing to specific roles:
- Traffic units (95%)
- Traffic wardens/ Police Community Support Officers (>1%)
- Vehicle Recovery (>1%)
- Casualty Reduction Partnership (3%)
- Road policing command team (2%).
Only two police services reported any staff assigned to vehicle recovery (MPS and Sussex Police).
What isn’t reported is the number of Forensic Collision Investigators. It is not possible to know the resources and thus priority being allocated to fatal and life-threatening injury collision investigation.
Two years on from the HMIC report, roads policing officers remain few in number, and are decreasing in too many police services. Whilst most police and crime plans include road safety as a local priority, this will require more investment in roads policing. Community Speed Watch programmes are complementary but not a replacement for roads policing.
Best use must be made with these limited resources. AVZ argues this means tackling those offences which pose harm to others, especially those more vulnerable.
Figure 1: Roads policing officers (2021/22).
Table 2: Roads Policing officer roles, England and Wales (2021/22)
Table 3: Roads Policing officers by police service/region, England and Wales
Spreadsheet of the Charts and Tables: