So as a real cynic of social media it took me some considerable time to grasp the power of this incredible, adaptable piece of IT and the importance that it now has in the policing arena. As one of the duty Sergeant’s for D unit I am regular “Tweeter” for the @TrafficWMP account and have really embraced the whole “Tweeting” thing. So when some of our traffic officers thought they might start writing the odd blog highlighting just what the Force Traffic Unit do, yes you guessed it that good old cynical me rears its head again. Turns out the blogs have been a hit and when @kerryblakeman asked for volunteers to write a blog I thought I’m gonna give that a go!
I warn you now I’m no Shakespeare, yet I start with a phrase that the bard famously penned; I’ve adapted it a little…
To pursue or not to pursue – that is the question?
As a PC some six years ago on the Traffic Department the privilege and excitement of driving fast powerful cars was really the reason for most being on the department. Yes of course we were all highly trained with Advanced driving grades, City and Guilds Vehicle Examiners qualifications and speed enforcement trained to name a few. We dealt with traffic legislation as part of our daily duties and of course tragically dealt with fatal Road Traffic Collisions and injury RTCs and provide Family Liaison to bereaved families. But to be behind that stolen vehicle (referred to as subject vehicle) or vehicle involved in crime that was failing to stop well it goes without saying, but I will…. The excitement, the passion, it was what the majority of traffic cops wanted to do, chase the baddie, arrest them and put them before the courts to face justice. I myself have had many pursuits as a PC the majority of which ended successfully with arrests and convictions at court, but clearly there are many dangers and grave circumstances when things go wrong.
Now some six years on as a supervisor I find myself more accountable, more answerable, a little heavier (only a bit honest) and a lot greyer! What do I think regarding pursuits? What do I do? And what should we as an organisation do? Here are some of my thoughts.
When sat at my desk all a bit to frequent for my liking now I hear those four words broadcast over our radios. “Vehicle failing to stop.” My initial thoughts are to grab the nearest set of keys and go, go, go but then the supervisor in me takes over and dependant on the location I assess if I can realistically make the area and be of any tactical assistance. If I’m not making I sit at the desk and listen intently to the commentary from the pursuing vehicle attempting to assess the emotions of the driver or passenger providing commentary. (WMP have clear guidelines and policies regarding pursuits that must be adhered to I’ll touch on these later). Knowing and supervising all of the officers on D unit I have a good understanding of all their characters and different tones in voices give me an idea of the mood in the police vehicle. So I sit in the office wishing it was me driving the police vehicle feeling that excitement and controlled adrenalin but then in a heartbeat I think of the potential outcomes and consequences of which there are many.
The one I fear the most is the RTC (road traffic collision). Who’s injured, is it a member of the public or one of my officers all of these thoughts rush through my head. WMP policy states that all police collisions (POLAC) have to be attended by a supervisor and this in itself can prove challenging, as I have to initiate an investigation against one of my officers. It could also be that should a breach of policy or traffic regulation be identified the officer may be grounded from driving and worst case, face a criminal prosecution. Should the latter be required it is dealt with by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and our Professional Standards Department to ensure transparency in case you were wondering.
During the pursuit our policies and procedures dictate that we must provide commentary and regular risk assessments. These should include reason for the pursuit, speeds, conditions to name just a few and that this is an ongoing assessment. All of our pursuit criteria is broadcast to the Force Contact Centre Inspector who based on commentary and many other factors decides whether the pursuit is Justifiable, Accountable, Proportionate, Accurate and Necessary (JAPAN).
If all of this is met the pursuit is authorised and the use of our tactics directory can commence. While in the tactical phase of the pursuit known as Tactical Pursuit & Containment all available traffic cars make towards the location to maximise our chances of bringing the pursuit to a safe conclusion and to catch the baddie! Skills such as quartering, feeding and boxing all become available to utilise, there are many examples of TPAC which can be viewed on the World Wide Web an example of which is here.
As quickly as a pursuit can be authorised that authority can also be removed by the Force Contact Centre or indeed the officer(s) based on the risks being taken by the driver of the subject vehicle. So if you have ever been that member of the public pointing and shouting “The vehicles gone down there” and wondering why we’re not going after it, hopefully that should explain. To help inform part of our risk assessment we must have a working knowledge of the National Decision Model, link here should you fancy!
At the end of all pursuits we complete a pursuit de-brief and view the in car video footage that is available in the majority of all traffic vehicles. This helps us identify any areas of training or development required and of course is excellent evidence for the courts.
Now that you know a little around our pursuit policy and the calculated risks that officers take on a daily basis are you asking? Why do we do what we do, or should West Midlands Police pursue vehicles at all given the inherent dangers? It is a real political and emotive subject I know but if WMP don’t pursue, what message are we sending to the criminal fraternity that use vehicles to commit crime and/or steal vehicles to fund a living?
All of the police forces across the United Kingdom are trained to the highest national level and tactics are approved by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Pursuits have to be proportionate to the circumstances and all officers must be in appropriate vehicles and trained before any such authority is granted. This enables cross force pursuits to be successfully co-ordinated ensuring that all engaged during the pursuit have the same standard of training, with the ultimate aim being to bring the pursuit to a safe conclusion and deny criminals use of the roads. The greatest consideration is given during pursuits and public safety is a fundamental part of our decision making process and on-going risk assessment. Pursuits have significantly changed for the better over the last few years with training standardised across all forces for a collaborative approach. All officers are trained to the highest standards and use extreme professionalism when engaged in what can be a high speed chase. I can assure you the greatest consideration and thought process is made before broadcasting those words, vehicle failing to stop!
If you like my first attempt that’s great tell your friends and share the blog if not Tweet @kerryblakeman and tell him. He made me do it!
Sergeant Ade Brown