Society Magazine

Underpowered and Underskilled

Posted on the 17 July 2013 by Minimumcover @minimumcover

One of the most satisfying parts of my job and one I take a lot of pride in is the response and pursuit work. The role of Grade 1 driver was something that I aspired to from day one – Not because I just wanted to drive everywhere at the speed of light, but because I wanted to learn how to control a car better, drive safer and to be able to get to the urgent stuff quickly and safely. I remember years of bumbling along in one of the low performance cars – desperate to back up my colleagues but unable to do so any faster for fear of getting hauled into the boss’s office for a dressing-down.

Thankfully after a few years I managed to get my first course and subsequently my most memorable few weeks to date – finally achieving one of my career goals.

It has always interested me how other forces differ in their attitudes to response work. Some train everyone, some have extra interim levels, and some keep the keys to the big cars locked in a gold-plated cabinet that only the most worthy know the key code to. Pursuit work attracts the almost the same degree of national variety.

I have been speaking to one of my friends from my training school days this week and he told me of his frustration at the policy and restrictions being placed on drivers within his force. I am sure that these are becoming more common all the time, so he probably speaks for many from other parts of the country.

He told of the way their fleet has been consistently downgraded over the last couple of years. Cars that used to have a modicum of presence and a respectable amount of performance have been replaced by under-powered family hatchbacks and estates which were sluggish at best, before you weighed them down further with a few hundred kilos of kit. More recently, their driving levels have all been adjusted too. This means, for example, that some of the best drivers on the area can no longer drive some of the cars used by the motorway group – cars that were historically loaned out as spares if one of the divisional cars got sick.

Most disturbingly he recounted several incidents where he had attempted to stop a vehicle to speak to the occupants. When the driver decided not to stop, for whatever reason, he was simply unable to keep up with it. We are not talking Subarus and Porsches here, we are talking about standard 2.0l petrol cars – Minis or Vauxhalls – the sort that even my very conservative aunt might have on her drive.

It’s actually quite embarrassing….. And that wasn’t all!

He went on to tell me of situations where the vehicle being followed happened to be slow enough for him to keep up, but he still ended up being ordered to let it go as there were not enough resources to do anything about it should it continue to refuse to stop. We are not going to get into a debate about pursuits in this post but, while they are a possibility, it would be useful to have sufficient officers to be able to resolve one should the need arise.

It seems that the significant reduction in Roads Policing officers (over 25% in many forces), combined with changes in policy about how well-trained officers outside the Roads Policing Team can be have reduced their ability to apprehend anyone who doesn’t immediately pull over and put their hands up almost to zero. I understand that there are some manoeuvres which should only be completed by the experts, but if the good old Stinger or Stop Stick is safely tucked away in the boot of the car doing the pursuit (because no one else is allowed to use it any more) then what is the point in having it. He said that there are rarely enough trained officers to deal with the follow – let alone a surplus to allowing some to plot up ahead with the right kit – potentially bringing the pursuit to a safe conclusion without the need for high risk tactics such as contact or boxing.

Before anyone gets on their soapbox about the Manual of Guidance for Pursuits (available here if you want to have a read – and I have by the way) I know that some restrictions are National, but some are not. The cars we use and the training available to officers is entirely down to the individual force. The decision to deny officers the option of using skills that they have previously been trained in is also nowhere to be seen in the ACPO document.

I am sure that a significant amount of the changes are for reasons of budget protection and risk avoidance but really….

We are there to do a job and we can’t do the job effectively unless we have the right tools.

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