I have recently observed councillors at Cambridge City Council’s North, West Central and East Area Committees discuss speeding enforcement with the police.
- In the North councillors have requested data be collected on speeding on Northfields Avenue and Kings Hedges Road, and have asked to see data the police hold on other roads including Fen Road in Chesterton.
- In the East councillors formally prioritised collecting data on speeding.
- West/Central councillors asked the police to prioritise gaining the capability to enforce the city’s 20 mph zones; which the police had told councillors they are unable to enforce.1,2
- Councillors in the East have were told on the 3rd of September that the police are unable to take action in relation to speeding at 11pm on a Friday night due to other calls on their resources.
An Update from the North
I attended Cambridge City Council’s North Area Committee on the 27th of August 2009. At the previous meeting the police had promised councillors full details of speeding surveys which had been carried out in the area. I used the opportunity for the public to ask questions during the ‘open forum’ part of the meeting to ask if councillors had received the data the police had promised. Cllr McGovern said councillors had not received the information. I also said that I was surprised that speeding had not been recorded in the minutes of the last meeting as a priority, given that councillors had clearly requested speed surveys on Northfield Avenue and Kings Hedges Road. I asked if, given the fact the speed surveys had not been recorded as a formal priority, councillors would be following up on the police’s action in this area at the next meeting.
Kings Hedges Councillors published an article on their blog following the agreement at the last North Area Committee meting to conduct speed surveys on Northfield Avenue along with King’s Hedges Road. Yet in response to my question Kings Hedges Councillor Neil McGovern admitted councillors would only follow up the action taking on speeding with the police if it was a formal priority (which it isn’t). Cllr McGovern clearly stated Liberal Democrat policy and practice with respect to setting local police priorities saying: “we follow what the police recommend”. This appeared to be his explanation for speeding not being prioritised. I think the system where Cambridge’s local police priorities are set by democratically elected county and city councillors at area committees has enormous potential, but is let down by unwillingness of many Liberal Democrats to influence policing priorities.
Cllr Ian Nimmo-Smith decided to respond to me as well. He said he had been reading the papers for the East Area Committee on the 3rd of September. He noted that the police appeared to be taking councillors’ concerns in the East Area more seriously than they were in the North and expressed a hope that the North Area would see similar action. I presume he realises that one of the major differences is that Labour and Conservative members in the East of the City actually made tackling speeding a priority, whereas I was pointing out that Liberal Democrats in the North had failed to do this. Instead of simply “hoping” Cllr Nimmo-Smith is in a position to take action.
An Update from the East
I also attended Cambridge City Council’s East Area Committee on the 3rd of September 2009. Sgt. Kathro who has just moved to the city from South Cambridgeshire was present representing the police. This is the officer who sent his team out to try and catch speeding drivers in the city’s traffic jams, clocking their fastest speed of 12mph. During his presentation he commented a number of times on this episode which had received significant press coverage. He made inconsistent comments on the matter, sometimes appearing to blame his officers, saying: “They know what I expect of them from now on” but also saying he had learnt that “the PCSOs and PCs know better than I do”.
Sgt. Kathro failed to provide any detailed statistics on speeding, which is what councillors had requested. He did not present any data on actions taken against those speeding in the area eg. the number of hours of speedwatch, the number of prosecutions, or the number of advisory letters. Cllrs Burke and Howell had however managed to obtain some statistics themselves, Cllr Howell explained to the meeting that he had had to submit a Freedom of Information request to obtain what he had.
Cllr Burke said he had seen the results of a speeding survey carried out on Mill Road which showed cars traveling significantly over 30mph at the foot of the railway bridge, and well over 40mph towards the Brookfields end of the road in the evenings.
Cllr Howell told the meeting the data he had obtained was for Coleridge Road in December 2008 and Mill Road in 2007. He said the data showed significant numbers of cars – almost on in five – traveling at speeds which would warrant prosecution. On the 24th of June I wrote to the City Council Officer responsible for working with the police – Paul Griffin to say:
I would like to suggest the routine publication of the results of such speed monitoring exercises in relevant neighborhood profiles.
Cllr Howell called for such routine publication at the September East Area Committee.
Sgt. Kathro told the meeting that his view was that speeding was not a significant problem.
Cllr Harrisson was became very angry with the police officer for making this statement, as it was directly contradicting what councillors were saying. She explained that she wanted action taken “to save lives and limbs”.
Councillors commented on the proposals to spend £400,000 on making Mill Road safer (including making efforts to reduce speeds). Councillors told the police that if there really wasn’t a problem they needed the hard data to support that so that they didn’t invest their money in the wrong place.
James Woodburn of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and another member of the public made a point that I have made previously, that there is a need to tackle speeding late at night. Sgt. Kathro said the police were unable to enforce speed limits at 11pm on a Friday Night due to other pressures on the police at that time. Due to the fact that increasingly policing is done by PCSOs who rarely work after dark and as far as I can tell are never on duty at 11pm this is not surprising. I would like to see more real police officers who can be employed for about the same amount of money as a PCSO.
A member of police staff then told the meeting that the police’s, research based, view was that enforcement was not able to solve speeding problems.
I used my opportunity to address the meeting to note that at the previous meeting councillors had, in April 2009, voted to prioritise:
Tackling speeding on residential roads in East Area to include systematic evaluation of the problems and police enforcement action.
Having just heard from Cllr Howell and Burke that data being referred to was from 2007 and 2008 I asked what systemic evaluation had occurred as a result of councillors setting the priority in April. Sgt. Kathro “responded” by saying he had acted on the priority by sending out his PCs and PCSOs with the speed guns. I said that I felt the police had, in effect, ignored the priority as they had not carried out any new systematic evaluation as they had been asked to.
Cllr Burke spoke passionately and critically about Sgt. Kathro’s approach to the meeting. He asked for the police officer attending the meeting to take some time to prepare in advance and come able to report detailed statistics on each of the prioritised items.
Councillors decided not to set a traffic or speeding related priority for the next period, but to hold a meeting with the police to discuss target roads and try and identify specific problems as possible priorities for the future.
Outside the meeting I asked Sgt. Kathro if he was aware of the priority which councillors had set; I explained I was trying to understand why it had been ignored. He said: “I’m just a Sergeant, what I am supposed to do”. That perhaps illustrates part of the problem as at this meeting he was not “just a Sergeant” he was representing the police. Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s award winning Community Engagement Manager John Fuller stepped in to answer saying: “it didn’t happen as councillors didn’t identify target roads”. At a number of times throughout the meeting Mr Fuller had been “pulling Sgt. Kathro’s strings” instructing him when and how to respond to councillors, and on a at times instructing him not to respond to points they had raised.
- I am not a fan of overzealous enforcement of speeding laws, particularly where this appears to be being done to generate revenue rather than prevent accidents. I strongly oppose the proliferation of speed cameras and the prosecutions of people for traveling at a few miles an hour over the speed limit.
- I think that priorities set by councillors ought be worked on, and progress should be reported. If councillors set inappropriate priorities they are accountable to the electorate and can be removed. Used well the system we have in Cambridge could result in better policing and stronger democracy which together would make the city a more pleasant place to live.
- I do not think that flooding the city with PCSOs at 9am on a weekday morning is a good use of resources and would like to see more real police on duty at the times when they are needed.
- Speeding enforcement should be a last resort; roads ought be made safer (on occasion that might mean slower) through adjustments to the road design.