Majority of forces record year-on-year fall in full-time roads policing officers
1,437 fewer designated officers in 2015 than in 2010, excluding Met Police
Transport Committee report advises maintaining specialist officer numbers
2015 saw a further fall in the number of full-time roads policing officers tasked with enforcing motoring laws and keeping local and major highways in England and Wales safe, new data seen by the RAC indicates.
Figures supplied in answer to a parliamentary question show 1 there were 1,437 fewer dedicated roads policing officers outside London last year than in 2010, taking the overall tally to 3,901 officers – a 27% reduction. Therefore between 2010 and 2015, there was the equivalent of more than 5 fewer officers each week whose responsibilities were predominantly roads policing and accident investigation.
Thirty out of 42 forces recorded a fall in the number of roads policing officers between 2014 and 2015 – collectively accounting for 352 fewer officers. West Yorkshire saw a reduction of 91 officers, explained by a switch to mixed speciality units. 2 Avon and Somerset witnessed the next biggest fall in officer numbers (34 fewer officers, a 35% drop), while Northamptonshire saw the next greatest reduction as a proportion of all dedicated roads policing officers (21 fewer officers, a 36% drop).
Just twelve forces reported increases in dedicated roads policing officers year-on-year, totalling 162 more officers, although these increases do not make up for the losses within other forces, leading to the overall net reduction in numbers. Essex claimed a near-doubling of officers (up 72 to 148 officers), while Devon and Cornwall reported 31 more officers (up from 57) and Cheshire 30 more (up from 89). The remaining nine forces gained on average three dedicated officers each.
RAC head of external affairs Pete Williams said: “Overall, these figures make for grim reading and are likely to be met with dismay by law-abiding motorists.
“While some of the numbers may be explained by organisational changes, such as officers taking on multiple roles and police forces working in partnership to tackle crime, the data still clearly shows that a majority of forces have seen a further fall in the number of officers whose primary responsibility is tackling crime on our roads.
“A recent report made by the Transport Select Committee 3 called on the Government to support police forces in maintaining the numbers of specialist officers on the roads. We look forward to the Government’s response to the Committee’s recommendations given the data now available.
“These findings also beg the question whether forces are increasingly turning to technology to enforce the law. Fixed speed cameras are a common sight on many roads, including on the hundreds of miles of highway being upgraded to smart motorways. However the majority of motoring laws that exist to make our roads safer still rely on a physical officer present to either apply the law, or deter drivers from committing an offence in the first place.
“The National Police Chiefs’ Council has stated its commitment to tackling the so-called ‘Fatal Four’ causes of serious accidents – inappropriate and excessive speed, driving under the influence of drink and drugs, not wearing a seatbelt and driving while distracted – but just how practical is this given the latest falls in officer numbers?”
Enforcement of the law and the behaviour of other motorists were two major concerns flagged by motorists surveyed as part of the latest RAC Report on Motoring. Sixty-two per cent said there are not enough police on the roads to enforce existing laws, while 34% listed drivers who use a phone without a hands-free kit as one of their top concerns.
Pete Williams added: “We are acutely aware that the police are doing their best to manage challenging budgets and scant resource; however the sustained reduction in roads policing officers is at odds with the consistent number of serious motoring offences being committed 4, and the concerns already expressed by motorists around the lack of visible police presence on our roads.
“The UK has a multitude of laws governing our roads – but a reducing number of dedicated individuals out there to enforce them. Plans to increase penalties for the use of handheld mobile phones at the wheel are welcome, but risk being undermined by falling numbers of dedicated roads police officers.
“The RAC believes the motoring public deserves honesty from the Government around whether there are enough resources in place to apply the law and cut down on illegal driving behaviour, some of which undoubtedly puts innocent lives at risk.”
Top forces by reduction in dedicated roads policing officers, 2014 to 2015
|2||Avon & Somerset||-34|
Top forces by % reduction in dedicated roads policing officers, 2014 to 2015
|3||Avon & Somerset||-35.3%|
Number of full-time equivalent1 police officers within the traffic function2 in England and Wales, as at 31 March 2010 to 31 March 2015
|Officer numbers as at 31/3/10||Officer numbers as at 31/03/14||Officer numbers as at 31/03/15||2010 to 2015 change||2014 to 2015 change|
|West Yorkshire (note 3)||315||225||134||-181||-91|
|Avon & Somerset (note 4)||157||96||62||-95||-34|
|Lancashire (note 5)||171||142||113||-58||-29|
|Northamptonshire (note 6)||68||59||38||-30||-21|
|London, City of||30||25||24||-6||-1|
|Cheshire (note 7)||90||89||119||29||30|
|Devon & Cornwall (note 8)||239||57||88||-151||31|
|Total England and Wales||5,338||4,092||3,901||-1,437||
Notes related to tables above
|1. This table contains full-time equivalent figures that have been presented to the nearest whole number. Police workers with multiple responsibilities (or designations) (or designations) are recorded under their primary role or function. The deployment of police workers is an operational matter for individual chief constables.|
|2. Traffic function includes staff who are predominantly employed on motor-cycles or in patrol vehicles for the policing of traffic and motorway related duties. This includes officers employed in accident investigation, vehicle examination and radar duties. Also includes staff who are predominantly employed to support the traffic function of the force including radar, accident investigation, vehicle examination and traffic administration. Includes those officers working with hazardous chemicals, and those administrative staff predominantly serving the internal needs of the traffic function of the force and those officers in supporting roles.|
|3. Force corrected original figure quoted by Home Office. Force has reorganised its force structure to move from having specialist teams such as roads policing, firearms and dogs, to more flexible mixed speciality based units in its Safer Roads and Neighbourhood Support teams.|
|4. Force has gone through a re-organisation programme during the past 24 months which has streamlined ways of working but also built in budget cuts; operates a 'tri-force' model with other forces|
|5. The number of posts in the Road Policing Unit were reduced in February 2014 as a result of a change in structure throughout the force to support a “one team” ethos.|
|6. Regionalised the function with Derby, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire into East Midlands Support Operations Unit.|
|7. The increase in the number of traffic officers is as the result of a restructure, which moved to a centrally managed and locally based roads policing model.|
|8. In 2014 the Safer Roads Support Unit was created, taking the Roads Policing Officers back from local policing control and bringing them back under Operations Dept, this would explain the uplift.|
1 Data from parliamentary question asked by Jack Dromey MP answered on 12 May 2016 and covers financial years from 31 March 2010 to 31 March 2015. Excludes Metropolitan Police, as merging of units leads to data from this force being incomparable with other forces
2 For reasons provided by specific forces, refer to full table dataset above
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