No traffic police U-turn despite road death toll
DEVON and Cornwall Police has no plans to re-instate its traffic department, despite a spike in the number of fatal accidents on the region's roads so far this year.
The force axed its dedicated traffic officers in May 2010 as it moved to its new "blueprint" model to meet near-£50 million budget cuts by 2015.
Former traffic officers were integrated into the "response" department to deal with 999 calls.
Concerns were raised by some senior officers at the time and those fears have been heightened after 32 deaths on the roads of Devon and Cornwall in the first six months of this year.
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In the last two years, the 12-month average has been 50 deaths. It has led to strong rumours that the force is preparing to do a U-turn and re-establish its traffic department, albeit with fewer officers.
"Officers feel there is no strategy to deal with preventing deaths on the road because there are no dedicated resources for it," said Sergeant Nigel Rabbitts, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall branch of the Police Federation. Instead of going out and targeting those drivers who are causing problems on our roads, officers are having to spend most of their time responding to other incidents. There is obviously a debate going on that it was probably a mistake to get rid of the roads policing unit and that it should be re-introduced in some form."
In the six months after the force scrapped its dedicated traffic officers, the number of on-the-spot fines issued to speeding motorists more than halved.
Although the force has handed officers "patrol plans" for when they were not dealing with 999 calls, no figures are available for how long they are able to spend on them. The Police Federation has said the situation will only get worse as officer numbers fall to around 2,800 – a level last seen in 1983 – by 2015.
Chief Superintendent Kevin Harris said there were no current plans to reintroduce dedicated traffic officers, although how the "blueprint" system was working was constantly under review.
He said there had been a "nasty batch" of fatal accidents in recent months but there were no trends to suggest where or how officers could have been deployed to try to prevent them.
"The new system went live just over 12 months ago," Chief Supt Harris said. "We are still losing officers each month and we are constantly looking at where our resources can be best deployed."
Some former traffic officers, he said, had found the new system "challenging", having to respond to "run of the mill response calls" rather than focus on roads policing. But he said with fewer officers, the force could no longer afford for people to be "devoted" to roads policing. We haven't taken our eye off the ball and we are doing a significant amount of work at local and strategic level," he added. "We are still deploying units with a view to enforcing road traffic laws."