……….and the continuing adventures of the West Midlands Police Road Harm Reduction Team
As I write this it’s close to freezing outside, yet its midday…..we are it would seem trapped in a bit of a never ending winter at the moment, and given the need for something warming this particular blog should be “digested” with something hearty and wholesome such as a sticky toffee pudding or thick apple pie with traditional custard, and maybe a small glass of red to accompany. In the background the sounds of Air – Ce Matin La or maybe Goldfrapp – Caravan Girl should help bring about images of a warming spring day, something we are all in need of at the moment. So with your chosen calorific mood enhancer ready to consume, your chosen tipple at hand and a your favourite spring inspiring tune resonating in the background read on and see where we are taking our constantly evolving efforts to create a safer environment for all on the roads of the West Midlands Police region in the coming year.
Two years gone…..
It doesn’t seem like it’s been two years since PC Mark Hodson and PC Steve Hudson (aka #HodsonandHudson) started the #OpClosePass concept. Both already having a policing history of protecting the most vulnerable on the road in the West Midlands Police region the #OpClosePass project became the first of several innovative bespoke evidence based policing operations that now dominate the day to day activities of the West Midlands Police Road Harm Reduction Team (#WMPRHRT).
Having already spent the previous three years experimenting with 3rd party reported video prosecutions, at the same time as the inception of #OpClosePass, two years ago, both officers also took it upon themselves to extensively test the 3rd party video evidenced prosecution concept on a basis that could be used to bring about wholesale driver behavioural change. Over 350 successful prosecutions later the work stream, that most said could never be done, just like many said #OpClosePass could never be done, now sits with the West Midlands Police Traffic Process Office. They are taking it to even greater levels that should see 3rd party reported prosecuted offences become an integral part of our plans to create a safer road going environment for all the residents of the West Midlands region.
That’s the key to how we work here on the #WMPRHRT, we recognise that innovative, evidence based policing is the key to securing the safety of people on our roads. The phrases “You can’t do that” or “that will never work” have become to key test of any developing concept to the team, you see we recognise that most previous efforts of policing have failed to change wholesale driver behaviour and now see that unless a particular policing activity addresses the greatest threat of harm on the road, which for the unaware is driver behaviour, then that policing activity is just a waste of our ever valuable time. When we come up with a particular new idea or technique, unless people start rolling their eyes and shaking their heads we realise it doesn’t go far enough, we are really setting out to change the way we protect people on our roads, and those changes need innovation, creativity, to be evidence based and community support to succeed.
All of our successful projects, the core of which are #OpClosePass, #OpParkSafe, #OpSaferCross, #20’sPlenty, third party reporting and #MARSO are designed to create an environment whereby if a driver offends or is tempted to offend they do so knowing that there is every chance that no matter where or when that offence takes place there is every likelihood that offence could be detected and prosecuted. The combination of all our day to day efforts has one ultimate aim, to create an environment on the road network of our region that encourages positive transport choices and improves the quality of life of all whilst they travel around their community, people must feel safe, secure and free from the threat of harm, but if they are offended against and endangered they must be certain that positive action will be taken.
#OpClosePass – It’s getting everywhere
Nearly two years on most other police forces have adopted #OpClosePass and Third party reported prosecutions in some form. The protection of vulnerable road users and the creation of road going environments that promote all transport choices has become a priority, whereas two years ago it was unheard of. The fact that we have shown that it is possible and effective utilising minimal resources through our seminars held in partnership with the Road Danger Reduction Forum and West Midlands Fire Service has spurred most forces to use #OpClosePass in some form, especially as the excellent crowd-funded campaign by Cycling UK provided the educational mat needed leaving no excuses not to!
To be effective #OpClosePass needs to be….. As the late great Steve Marriot and the Small Faces sang……”all or nothing”. #OpClosePass is something you cannot dilute or do half-heartedly if you want it to succeed. It is an evidenced based offender targeted operation designed to change the behaviour of those who cause the greatest threat of harm to vulnerable road users. If it is carried out, publicised and reinforced correctly (especially on social and mainstream media) and lastly but most importantly ran alongside an 3rd party reported offence system that provides a constant credible threat of 24/7 prosecution, #OpClosePass works incredibly well fulfilling it’s designed function of changing wholesale driver behaviour around vulnerable road users. If any of these criteria are not met then it will not be as effective as it could be. Ran correctly most drivers will see a cyclist and give the required room, either through the educational messages the campaign sends out or through the potential of prosecution if they don’t. That’s the required criteria for any operation we run, a strong educational/awareness message backed by an credible enforcement threat that makes those to selfish to comply for the needs of others comply instead to guarantee their driving future.
#OpClosePass – Evolution
We could just keep on with #OpClosePass in its current format and we still will run our current operations which see numerous offending drivers stopped and immediately educated by our partners in #OpClosePass ,the officers from West Midland Fire Service. But we are increasingly aware that #OpClosePass offers so much more that we could take advantage of…..and so we will.
When opportunities allow we will run #OpClosePassPlus which will see the unmarked police cyclist detecting not only close pass offences but also the multitude of other offences that the view from a pedal cycle in slow moving traffic offers. So as well as ending a 2 hour operation with our usual dozen or more educated drivers following the Close Pass Due Care offences we will have several seatbelt, mobile phone, vehicle defect offences as well. Additional traffic resources will intercept vehicles that are also suspected of being used in crime…..there’s no better way to recognise the pungent smell of a cannabis smoking vehicle occupant than from a pedal cycle.
On the educational side of #OpClosePass things are evolving too. The excellent officers at West Midlands Woodgate Valley Fire have already started large scale #OpClosePass education at a corporate level having been very well received at National Express Coventry and now Birmingham, serving up vulnerable road user education to up to 70 drivers in a day. Using this model we plan to use any corporate driver brought into an #OpClosePass site as an opening into the said employer and reinforce that they have a “corporate responsibility” to ensure that all their drivers are properly equipped to ensure the safety of any vulnerable road users they share the road with during the course of their employment.
We are also going to experiment with running #OpClosePass into the fading light using the innovative #Call4Safety downlighters set at 1.5mtr. This will make it quite obvious when an offending driver has passed to close to our cyclist as they encroach into the displayed halo of light that surrounds the cyclist. Trouble is on testing, the “halo” of light around the cyclist seems to reinforce our desired modified driver behaviour as #OpClosePass intended, so we may end up with very few offences, which is interesting !
@WMPRHRT ……the twitter account
We are going to have our own twitter account, why you may ask; well we want to create something different regards our social media output just as we do our policing output.
The @trafficwmp account is a fantastic account and the #WMPRHRT will still post on the account but our own account will contain posts the are more appropriate to the work of the team and hopefully enable yourselves to interact and understand what the team does and the reasons why on a day to day basis.
As well as the usual tweets of pictures, offences and results we will Vlog a lot of content as the format firstly can pass so much more information and secondly better convey the nature and reasoning behind what we do, the transparency of such posts is excellent and most will be from live operations giving a more thorough insight into what we do and how we do it on a daily basis.
Another form of post we will concentrate on is #TheTrafficOfficersGuide whereby a short video or tweet will fully explain pieces of legislation, road etiquette, offending etc. and hopefully educate and change the behaviour of those who may potentially offend or alternatively habitually offend.
The account will go live the first week in April but feel free to follow @WMPRHRT in the meantime in preparation for the first posts.
So there you go that’s it for now. As the weather warms and the amount of vulnerable road users increases expect to hear a lot about #OpClosePass and #OpClosePassPlus.
Until the next time, safe journeys all.