About a thousand years ago – well, on the 10th December 2009 if I’m honest – I posted a heartfelt rant about the standard of cycling displayed by Police Community Support Officers I’d observed around the area. After seeing the same guy play fast and loose with traffic on two separate occasions, I let rip with quite a fierce critique of the behaviour I’d witnessed. At the time, I expected the rant to generate a lot of comment, but it clearly didn’t energise the readers like it did me, and the matter soon died.
At the time of posting, I drew the article to the attention of Chief Inspector Mark Payne, of West Midlands Police, whose embracing of social media has been both exemplary and welcome. Repeatedly, the Inspector attempted to extract some comment from the relevant cycle trainers without success. I’d all but given up hope of a response when I gently prodded him via twitter a couple of days ago, but finally and very much to my surprise, I received a mail from Mr. Payne this morning with a comment on the matter from PC Skidmore, based at Brownhills Police Station, who is a qualified cycle trainer.
“The part one order 23/2008 gave guidance as to police cyclists. This has been introduced over the last few years and all cyclists now have to pass the official force cycle course to qualify. Those who completed outside agency courses may have had to re-qualify, but certainly all now officers and PCSO’s would have to complete the organisations official course.
All staff are required to undertake a two day course, with a consistent approach based around the force lesson plans. Each LPU would be able to use it’s own cycles and choose it’s own routes but the delivery of each component lesson follows corporate guidelines. It is a pass or fail course but as with most things the pass can be subjective and is only a snap shot of the individual performance on the days in question. Good today, whilst concentrating and being assessed may not be the same level of competence in a few weeks time
The policy states that:
“It is important for all cycling officers/PCSOs to be seen to be within the law and to practice the guidance set out in the Highway Code governing the use of bicycles whilst performing their respective roles.”
It would appear that the member of staff in question seems to have forgotten some of the basic things that they would have been taught. The official course cover many aspect of cycling, from maintenance and care, correct ways to get onto and use a pedal cycle along with basic road safety and usage. Certainly health and safety is covered and risk assessment features in the training. Common sense would dictate that there are potential dangers of cycling up the near side of a HGV, but unfortunately a trainer can’t be responsible for the acts of individuals who choose to take questionable risks.
Regarding cycling on the footpath or in pedestrian areas, it is quite correct that officers have no exemption under law and should adhere to legislation. It may be that staff need to dismount and push cycles in such areas, however the nature of our job may require that a member of staff does need to transgress this section of law e.g.. it may be more prudent to cycle through Walsall Town Centre to deal with an incident rather than to cycle miles out of the way to avoid the pedestrian area. Extra care and consideration should be given if this is necessary.
It is unfortunate that the actions of this member of staff have left a member of the community that we serve with the wrong impression of our organisation. I would suggest that this person is in he minority and that most of the cycle trained officers do observe the Highway Code and cycle in a professional and safe manner.”
Whilst I welcome this statement, I’m a bit concerned that the more cycling police I see, the more questionable road use I observe. There’s never a good reason to cycle up the inside of a line of traffic, even if some cycle lanes do appear to suggest it. Bike discipline does seem to be worse amongst the PCSO’s, however, and I wonder if that’s a factor. Certainly, the chaps I’ve seen cycling through pedestrian areas didn’t seem to be responding to a call, I could certainly understand their doing so if they were.
I will repeat here and now that I think police on bicycles is a great idea – any method of deployment that encourages officers to engage more with the public is to be applauded. I would hope that as their presence seems to be increasingly common, that those in charge of cycle training keep on top of relevant skills within the ranks. I know it’s not easy to ride in a confident, assertive manner, particularly in heavy traffic, but I do believe it is the key to survival. It really wouldn’t hurt to get hold of a copy of John Franklin’s ‘Cyclecraft’ and digest it – there’s plenty of good advice in there that goes way beyond the Highway Code.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank both Chief Inspector Payne for his doggedness in pursuing this matter, and PC Skidmore for his considered, thoughtful response. If PC Skidmore would like to contact me, the address is brownhillsbob at googlemail dot com.