This is an article where I definitely have a foot in both camps. Following the recent high number of fatal collisions involving cyclists in London, the Met has launched Operation Safeway – a massive deployment of uniformed officers across several high-risk junctions, aimed at kerbing both poor driving and poor cycling. Today, there are 650 of them out and about. If all 32 boroughs are taking part, that’s a significant amount of their deployable officers on any one shift. There will be supplements of traffic officers, I expect, but they’re a fairly small branch themselves.
The trouble with these operations is that they’re short term – a reaction to a headline. Unless the Met can keep 650 officers on this operation every day, forever, then it won’t do a great deal. It is, in itself, another headline to react to the headline. I agree that “something must be done”, but there is only so much that the police can actually do. With all the million-and-one other responsibilities that officers have, there is little time to devote to traffic matters. A penalty notice for a traffic offence can take as long to issue and deal with (especially if it’s contested) as a Burglary. Unfortunately, both are priorities – and there aren’t enough staff to go around dealing with it all as much as we’d like.
I hope some good comes from Op Safeway; maybe the advice given out will save a few lives, and maybe a few dangerous vehicles and drivers will be taken off the road. But in order to be successful in the long-term, the Mayor’s office are going to have to come up with a better solution – segregated lanes, dedicated cycle expressways, restrictions on HGVs – whatever it may be. Hoping that drivers and cyclists will all suddenly get “better” at driving or riding won’t do.
Paying for an extra 650 police officers to do this permanently would cost about £25m in wages alone each year, so I doubt MOPAC are up for that, either.