We embarked on a ‘Traffic Operation’ the other morning on earlies. Now I’m not really the sort to go harassing and fleecing innocent motorists – we have a Government in this country that’s far more capable of carrying out that trick much more successfully than my colleagues and I ! But every now and then, normally driven by complaints over speeding, parking or general discourtesy from local residents, we will descend on a given area en-masse, with the general intention of creating awareness more than anything – making the odd errant motorist aware that their actions have consequence for others – education, education, education .. (where have I heard that before ???).
The op in question was however a tad different the our normal sort – from somewhere up on high it had been commanded we needed a ‘crackdown’ on uninsured, untaxed and unroadworthy cars, and unlicenced drivers. It’s a fair point I guess, crime is crime and we do need to deal with it wherever possible. I pay car tax and insurance, and I’m sure you do as well, so why shouldn’t everyone else ? So this is how it was to work :
The main road between Bigtown and Medbury (our county town and, as if by magic, the home of our Headquarters AND Road Policing Team) is for a decent part of its route a dual carriageway. It was deicded, as it happens by the Road Policing Team who were in charge of the operation, that the ‘target zone’ for the operation would be the Medbury end of this dual carriageway, just by the roundabout onto Medbury bypass …. the same roundabout which leads onto the business park where the Road Policing Team are based ….. what a coincidence !!!
The rest of us who had been allocated to work on this operation therefore had to travel to them – from where we were at Bigtown, that’s the best part of 30 miles, but HQ wouldn’t amend the RPT’s duty times to start an hour earlier so they could come up to our end of the county so there we were. When we arrived for the briefing we quickly found out it was to be a two day operation we had been volunteered / press-ganged for (bang goes any chance of getting my enquiries done on earlies again then !) – the first day was to be an ‘awareness day’ when rather than processing and prosecuting for minor issues, we would be giving advice. Day two was going to be zero tolerance.
“Okay everyone” said the Road Policing Inspector at the end of the briefing “Go grab a quick drink, and everyone be ready to go in thirty minutes, any questions ?”. Well as you were asking … “Yes Sir” I piped up “Given that we all had to be here for eight, the briefing wasn’t til nine, it’s now twenty past and we aren’t going out for another half hour, aren’t we going to have missed all the works and rush hour traffic ?” Silence from around the room. Sorry n’ all that but what a waste of everyone’s time this was already turning into – and I’ve got a tray full of crimes that need investigating and people that need arresting 30 miles away in Bigtown – I really didn’t have time for yet another Headquarters ‘fluffy heads in the clouds but we’ve ticked a few boxes for the boss’ operation.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t get everything together any earlier, that’s just the way it is sometimes” was my answer. I wanted to bite back, I really did, but Big Pete, who’d come down with me for the day elbowed me in the ribs at the appropriate moment and whispered “keep schtum, they’ve obviously done it this way for a reason, must be trying to prove something but god knows what”.
Anyway, 30 minutes later (that’s on the HQ clock, to you and me that’s closer to 45), we all set out to our allotted positions. Someone in their wisdom had already arranged for the Highways Dept at the local council to go out and stick a load of big traffic cones along a good half mile stretch of the dual carriageway leading up to the roundabout, forcing traffic into one lane, and making it far easier for us to filter out the vehicles we were interested in and direct them into the handy adjacent layby.
The cars and vans we wanted were being identified by the CCTV / ANPR van which was being parked up on the side of the road even further back than the cones. The two guys sat in there were not only monitoring the ANPR reads being automatically captured, but were also watching other cameras which were being directed toward the traffic, looking for people on their phones, not wearing their seat belts, or generally doing things which could otherwise be considered dangerous whilst in a moving vehicle. In fairness, it wasn’t like they were hiding or anything, the van is big, it’s white and it’s got big fluorescent yellow and blue squares on it with the words ‘POLICE’, ‘ANPR UNIT’ and ‘CCTV’ in big letters on the back and sides. Even further back along the road were ‘POLICE SLOW’ and ‘TRAFFIC AWARENESS CAMPAIN’ signs – hardly being sneaky.
And so, it was well gone 10am before ‘Operation Motorist Mania’ began, and to be honest, the traffic flow was not exactly what you would call mighty. Had we done this a couple of hours before it would have been a different ball game altogether – but then I’m not so sure I’d have wanted several hours of angry drivers (rightly) complaining they were being held up on their way to work / school / doctors / secret girlfriends etc as a result of us coning one of the county’s busiest roads down to one lane just for the sake of it.
Things did however ‘tick over nicely’ up until about 12 noon. Even with the lower traffic flow we have trouble keeping up with the reports the guys sat in the van 3/4 mile down the road were firing at us. We gave out numerous warnings about seat belts, mobile phones, little kids not properly secured, not telling DVLA you’d changed address or in some case, changed car !! Every car that was stopped, we did a quick roadworthiness check and an amazing number of them had a headlight, brake light or indicator bulb blown and on virtually every occasion “it must have just happened, it was fine when I left home”. Uncanny – I reckon there was an invisible little elf sat on the Armco barrier flicking magic beads at the cars going past – you know, the ones that travel right through glass but break the bulb behind …..
The more serious offences we couldn’t let pass – (we debated which category mobile phone use was going to fall into) – and as a result FIVE drivers were reported for no insurance (and their cars seized), SEVEN for no tax, TWO people were arrested for disqualified driving, another TWO for being over the drink drive limit (insert morning after warning here) and another TWO for outstanding warrants. That was, as it turned out, a very sad indictment of how blatantly some people will break the laws of the road.
One woman however, simply could not understand why we had disrupted her ‘very busy schedule’ and stopped her just because the CCTV had witnessed her driving using both elbows to steer with a make up mirror in one hand and one of those big fluffy brushes applying blusher and then eyeliner with the other !!
We were also treated to the giggles of the guys in the van who’d spotted some very strange goings on in one car – from what they were describing it seemed the female front seat passenger had dropped something down into the drivers footwell and kept having to lean over the centre console and look down towards the drivers lap to try and find it, then look up a bit, then down a bit, then up a bit …..
I was actually beginning to get into the swing of things. Between us at the checkpoint, we soon got into a routine of checking the cars over and dealing with the drivers quite quickly. I would even go so far as to say I was finally beginning to enjoy the day. After 12 noon however, things went very quiet on the radio. We suddenly stopped getting reports through from the ANPR van. We carried on ourselves, picking out ‘likely’ cars from the slowly passing traffic but after about 15 minutes I called up on the radio to make sure everything was okay with the van down the road.
It was the Road Policing Inspector, the guy who’d done the earlier briefing who answered on the radio “Sorry, the Local Neighbourhood Team down here had promised one of their schools the ANPR van and an RPT car would be their after dinner to show the kids the work we do so they’ve had to leave, didn’t they tell you ?”
“Actually, no, no one told us a thing boss, I take it we’re going to carry on manually spotting cars down here then ?” I replied. “Negative” said the boss “we’ll call it time for today, if you can all be back down here for eight in the morning and we’ll sort a briefing for tomorrow, thanks for your help”. And with that we were left to shift half a mile of cones over to the side of the road and start the 30 mile trail back to Bigtown.
‘Day Two’ never happened. Pete and I arrived at Bigtown the following morning, full of the joys of another 60 mile round trip to hurry up and wait for the HQ Teams to decide if they were having butter or marg on their toast that morning before actually doing something, when I checked my email and found we’d been sent a message from the RPT Inspector informing us that due to an ‘unforeseen double booking’ the Road Policing Team were unable to carry out the second days operation but thanks for all our efforts the previous day.