Sunday, May 10, 2009

Surprise victory on policing speeding in East Area

Policing priorities for Abbey, Coleridge, Petersfield and Romsey were again up for discussion at the council's East Area Committee this last Thursday.

We learnt that the Speedwatch scheme which had been kicked off at the previous opportunity to set policing priorities on 15th January had only operated two sessions in the entire four-month period, only one 34-minute session of which was in Coleridge, and issued three letters to speeding motorists, only one of which was for the Coleridge Road session. For ongoing activities, only four volunteers have been trained.

This was despite the Speedwatch scheme being publicised across the ward by Conservatives and again to hotspots, as well as being publicised by Labour and apparently also by PCSOs, although I'm not sure how that was done.

The wording accepted for the priority in January was:
Speedwatch – to assist community volunteers to administer the initiative.
Whereas the alternative to which Cllr Howell tried to amend the priority but which was rejected by all other councillors present, was:
Tackle speeding on residential roads in East Area primarily through police monitoring and enforcement and also co-ordination of other activities such as Speedwatch that may help reduce problems.
Nevertheless, Cllr Howell went on to support the unamended priority, as despite deep reservations from within the Conservative team in Coleridge about the nature of the Speedwatch scheme we were happy to support a pilot of the initiative - we have an open mind to the possibilities.

As a member of the public I questionned the effectiveneness of Speedwatch during the period, wanting to know how many police patrols would have been possible had the priority been set differently, to which the sergeant, astonishingly, could not provide an answer.

Even more bizarrely the sargeant then went on to ask if I would really have wanted them not to concentrate on proper crimes like theft. While I am very sympathetic to that point, it did not make sense to me in the context - surely these are priorities set by the councillors for the local team and therefore Speedwatch was given roughly a third of the resources available for prioritisation - if this was not the case then then what is the point of the priorities? Were the police only too pleased that a priority had been selected that didn't require much effort? I don't ever remember the councillors taking this differential attention into account in their priority-setting process.

When the priorities came up for debate, Chris Howell tried for the fourth time since his election to the city council last May to get proper police action on speeding onto the priorities list. To my astonishment, and I think to that of some of the councillors too, Chris was at last successful in this mission, supported belatedly by his fellow ward councillors and Cllr Wright from Abbey, winning the vote 4-3!

The new priority is:
Tackling speeding on residential roads in East Area to include systematic evaluation of the problems and police enforcement action.
The police sergeant present when his recommended priorities for the next quarter were ammended was taken aback and wondered how they were going to achieve this. My first thought was: if you are struggling with this level of democratic involvement just you wait until we have elected police chiefs under a Conservative government! This rather makes a mockery of the Policing Pledge presented to us at the beginning of the neighbourhood policing agenda item!

When Coleridge Conservatives recently surveyed residents on how best to tackle speeding vehicles in Coleridge we found only 1.6% of respondents supporting the Speedwatch-style approach. Police patrols (as favoured by Coleridge Conservatives) and fixed speed cameras were the preferred solutions:

One of the arguments that Speedwatch proponents keep putting is that the scheme will help to identify areas that have a speeding problem. In my view this is a bogus argument and Speedwatch will only achieve a level of information equivalent to existing anecdotal evidence as the experience of Speedwatch teams is that people slow down for their setup, so they cannot gauge the natural speeds at which people are proceeding.

In contrast, the systematic speed monitoring that occured recently on Queen Edith's Way for the South Area Committee proved very effective at getting an accurate distribution of speeds over the course of the day and will improve on the anecdotal evidence we currently have. It is hoped that some of this kind of monitoring will now be possible in the East Area.


Interested Resident said...

How negative can you get!

Interested Resident said...

How negative can you get?
And how will you ever know which areas need action?
And someone should get their facts straight as well!
Also letters go out only to drivers who go over 36mph. Speed limit is broken at 33. Why not get all the information in and not just what suits you!

Chris Howell said...

One of the most bizarre posts we've had on the blog - we've demonstrated a serious problem with the current approach to a problem raised by many residents during our year round program of speaking to residents and asking them their concerns, and won support for a better one after a long campaign -exactly what local Councillors are there for.

"And someone should get their facts straight as well!"

Couldn't agree more! I think you will find the speed limit on most roads in Coleridge is broken if you exceed 30 mph. My understanding is that the speedwatch signs only flash the speed when cars reach 36mph, and letters are only sent when cars exceed 40mph.

Andrew Bower said...

Hello Interested Resident,

The assessment of negativity is necessarily subjective so I don't intend to deal with that and Chris has handled your numerical errors.

I find your rhetorical question, "and how will you ever know which areas need action?" to be a bit of a red herring, I'm afraid, as I explained in my penultimate paragraph. If the Speedwatch trial has shown anything it is that the last thing it provides is a proper picture of current behaviour.

1) The organisation of volunteers to cover the range of roads and times is necessarily going to be haphazard, whereas the police should be able to organise something systematic.

2) The Speedwatch patrol will affect the subject which it is monitoring. This has been confirmed by observations that traffic slows down when it sees the equipment and volunteers.

3) I assume Speedwatch is not set up to collect the appropriate data in a systematic way for this usage, but I am happy to be corrected on this point.

If you want good quality data on speeding that will show a true enough distribution of the problem then something needs to be done that is similar to what was done recently on Queen Edith's Way.

Anonymous said...

I can only describe Speedwatch as a Dad's Army type approach to stopping speeding. Only one letter was issued and only half an hour of actual speed testing occured. The proper way to stop speeding is for the Police to do their job!