Way back on the 23rd June this year, some two and a half months ago, I posted an article centred around a bike cam video excerpt I captured in the centre of Walsall. This, as I’m sure readers will recall, showed a marked west midlands police vehicle making a prohibited right-turn from the bus lane in Hatherton Road onto Lichfield Street. This wouldn’t normally have vexed me too much, but at the time, and subsequently, West Midlands Police issued press releases stating how many civilian drivers they had stopped and ticketed for the same manoeuvre. The vehicle in question clearly wasn’t in a hurry, and was not displaying blue lights or using it’s siren. The recording is shown below.
The post engendered a range of responses – mostly supportive of my view, but a few felt the police had every right to do this. At the time, I drew my concern to the attention of West Midlands Police officers on twitter, and to their press office. A great dialog was held at the time, and the press officers – Jo Hunt and Gina Lycett – have been exemplary in their care and concern for the matter.
Sadly, it took two and a half months for the press office to obtain a statement on the issue. The press office were initially told that the investigation was ongoing, then that the vehicle log was in the car and that the car was in for repair. Finally, last Friday, the 2nd of Septemper, Gina Lycett contacted me on twitter. The dialog below should be read from the bottom upwards.
I’m sure that any reader having any contact with the police will be as surprised as I am that they do not appear to keep adequate records of who is driving their vehicles. Such protestations on our behalf are always met with stern words and the fine concerned being applied anyway. I’m also saddened that officers I believe to have credibility and integrity did not own up. I expect better from them.
In recent years, West Midlands Police have improved immensely from the closed, aggressive and defensive body they once were. With the drive to community engagement and particularly social media, the force have made huge strides in meeting the public and becoming more human, compassionate and community spirited. I’m therefore sad that this incident seems to reveal that attitudes of the past still linger in the ranks.
Gina was kind enough to obtain an official statement for me for which I’m very grateful. I don’t want a witch hunt here, and want to be supportive of the police in their difficult, hard role. But they have to meet us half way – we expect to see the same standards of behaviour demonstrated from them that they enforce on us. It’s not too much to ask – after all, had the vehicle been demonstrating some urgency, I could have understood the need. As it was, they just looked lost.
The statement reads as follows:
Superintendent Keith Fraser, from Walsall police station,said: “We would reassure the people of Walsall that West Midlands Police expects the highest standards from all our officers and this clearly includes their driving behaviour.
Police officers are bound by the rules of road traffic legislation just like anyone else and they are expected to abide by them. They are afforded exemption in certain circumstances and emergencies, which may account for why police vehicles are sometimes seen parked (such as on double yellow lines) or driving through prohibited locations.
We appreciate this particular matter being brought to our attention and are looking at it and shall take action as appropriate.
In the meantime, all officers and staff who have access to the vehicle have been given formal advice about their behaviour and reminded of their responsibilities when driving.”
In conclusion, I’d point out the following video I posted back in August. I was pushing my bike across The Bridge in Walsall, when I came across thus officer riding her bike in a pedestrian zone. I want the kids and idiots who cycle here ticketed or at least told off – they get us all a bad name. I just can’t see this WPC having the moral authority to do that, to be honest. As I say, very sad considering the excellent work going on elsewhere in the force.
As you know, we follow each other on Twitter and I am regularly cheered by your support for your local police. Similarly, I’m disappointed when it becomes necessary for you or others to point out where we might have gone wrong.
We do get things wrong occasionally, but 99% of the time there is no malice or intention to do so. I’ve already commented on Twitter about the bus lane incident and I don’t seek to justify what happened on that particular day. I don’t know who was driving, but I know it wasn’t one of my team.
Let me give you an example of something that happened the other day though, that might just put this and the cycle incident into perspective.
I was driving one of our large personnel carriers to Walsall Police Station, when a report came in of a robbery that had just taken place in Walsall town centre. When these reports come in, as you would expect, every available officer looks to try and arrest a suspect. I might be a supervisor, but I’m no different to my colleagues – I want to get hands on the villain! A description was passed and an approximate location given.
I was at Green Lane – I wanted to get into town to track down the suspect. Knowing the town, I had a good idea of where I would be looking. The quickest way to get to where I wanted to be was to go down Green Lane, round the bus station and on to Hatherton Road.
The call was an immediate response, which entitled me to use emergency lights and sirens, which I did. However, once I was in the centre, they were turned off. No point having them on when I’m crawling along at 10mph to look at passing pedestrians who may be our robber! In addition, I wouldn’t want to spook the suspect into running off – I’m too old and wise for all that exercise.
As you know, Hatherton Road is a partial bus only lane, but that doesn’t stop people walking along there. Do I leave my van and get out on foot, thereby reducing my ability to respond quickly to a sighting? Or do I carry on driving slowly, able to cover more ground and be ready to go if a suspect is spotted some distance away? I chose the latter and I also chose to turn right into Lichfield Street, as that was the direction our baddie was heading.
Coincidentally, in front of me was a member of the public. He also turned right. I happened to follow him through town, where he contravened another traffic restriction. I continued to follow him, simply because he was going the way I was going. By this time, a message had been passed to say that our suspect had been spotted and was being spoken to. I then pulled the driver over and gave him words of advice about the restrictions in the town centre.
I admit that I turned right, contrary to the “No Right Turn” sign. I wasn’t overtly responding to an emergency call, although one had taken place. I was using the shortest route to get me to where I needed to be to perform my duty. It may not have looked good to the public, but unfortunately it was necessary. I hope that you would agree that in the circumstances, what I did was the right thing to do?
As I said before, I do not seek to justify the actions of others, merely to point out that sometimes, things aren’t always what they seem. The same may have applied to the officer cycling through town. The public want to see police officers patrolling their streets, but they also want them to respond quickly to incidents. Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways. There simply aren’t enough of us to patrol on foot AND be there quickly in the event of an emergency. Sometimes we have to compromise. Putting officers on bikes kind of redresses the balance, particularly in the town centre.
If that officer had been patrolling on foot across The Bridge, it wouldn’t have attracted any negative comment. If that officer had then been called to an incident across the other side of town and hadn’t got there in time because they were on foot, that might have drawn criticism. Yes, riding the bike in a prohibited area may not look good, but sometimes it’s the only practical way of performing both roles.
The issue of the vehicle log books is another matter. Officers are expected to complete the log book at the start of their tour of duty, to record the mileage and who is using the car. It does sometimes get missed, especially when the first call of the day is an emergency. It shouldn’t, but when the system is subject to human frailty, there’s always the chance of a breakdown. Ideally we would all be data tagged and satellite monitored, but there’s no money for that sort of thing any more. The officer concerned knows who he or she is and if it was me, I would put my hands up and say so.
I’ve always told my staff that the easiest way to deal with making a mistake is to admit it and deal with it. People are generally understanding when an apology is made. We have a difficult job to do and we need the support of the public to do it. I hope this long comment goes some way to explaining a possible perspective on this and I also hope that it doesn’t come across as an excuse making opportunity?
Keep recording events as they happen – it’s always interesting to see things from another angle. All I would ask is that if you see one of my colleagues (or maybe even me) doing something you’re not happy with, get in touch and I’ll see if I can find out the reason behind it.
Stay safe on the bike and make sure you check the batteries in your lights – dark nights are coming and it would be nice to be able to see one or two cyclists on the road!
Thanks for your lengthy, and thoughtful reply. It deserves a very considered response, which I’ll hopefully get time to write in the next couple of days. You make some good points, but I do take issue with a few.
I’m hugely grateful for your time and effort, and you know I respect your views and professionalism immensely. Thank you.
I also contacted West Midlands Police about this incident: My office overlooks this bus lane and I see police cars use the bus lane and turn right into Lichfield Street on a daily basis. I was given a very curt response that basically said the officers you observed on your video were responding to an emergency in the town centre. When I pointed out that they didn’t have their blue lights or sirens on I was told that they weren’t using them in case it attracted attention. Great eh? They’re evidently not concerned about the.people crossing the road to use the Centre for the Blind.
If these officers were attending a town centre emergency, as stated in the email, surely there will be a call log detailing which officers the call was passed to and which officers responded. Unless, of course they weren’t responding to an emergency and they simply didn’t want to experience the same inconvenience that all other drivers experience at this junction. But of course that wouldn’t happen! Anyhow, I must dash, I just saw something flying through the air!
I do think that this is a rather petty conversation! consider this – Although technically police officers ARE breaking the law in contravening elements of the Road Traffic Act, but equally they are doing their job in a ‘protect and serve’ role.
A more reasonable debate would be why does Walsall council introduce such stupid traffic directions in the first place – there is no reason why all vehicles shouldn’t turn right there , as there is no reason why police cyclists shouldn’t cycle through a pedestrian way whilst on duty.
I’d have to disagree. Police vehicles should display the highest standards of road behaviour, as an example to other road users, and to avoid criticism when they pull over a law-breaker.
As to the cyclists- why? If they patrol those areas they should push the cycle unless actively in pursuit or en route to an emergency.
You can tell this is designated a pedestrianised area by the number of statutory white vans plastered all over it.
Just a thought, but surely the relaxation allowing market trader access in morning and evening would also allow cycle access?
I would be quite happy to see the police either on foot or bike if i was in Walsall shopping. I don’t think for one minute they wouldn’t be trained correctly to ride around a pedestion only area to protect the public. So think twice about what you say about the police when suddenly you may need them quickly!!!!!!!!!
Just thank god you weren’t walking around the front of that van, because the WPC wasn’t looking where she was going. Park Street isn’t safe to cycle in whatever your skill. An experienced cyclist knows this.
Walsall Police demonstrate woeful cycling skills.
I’ve seen no improvement since that article. Unlike some, I expect the highest standards from the police. I’m not going to accept lousy, hypocritical behaviour just because I may one day require their services.
By the way, you need a loading permit to drive onto the bridge.
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