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PCC Scrutiny Group meeting 5 December 2017

Some hope, much despair

Merseyside Police is scrutinised by the Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) every quarter in a Performance and Scrutiny Group meeting.

This report is a provisional report (awaiting feedback from the participants at the meeting) on impressions obtained from attending the most recent of these meetings held on 5 December 2017.

Members of the public are permitted to attend the meetings as observers. For details, see http://www.merseysidepcc.info/home/down-to-business/meetings-and-decisions/performance-and-scrutiny-group-meetings.aspx.

Attending the meeting gave some hope, but much despair - hope that the road safety measures that have been decided so far will make a difference in practice - and much despair that other measures that appear to be blindingly obvious are being ignored.

Reasons for hope

  • Road safety is now one of the five Merseyside Police priorities and is being discussed at the PCC Scrutiny meetings that are held every 3 months
  • Some new small initiatives are under way: three dedicated police officers are in post (out of the five planned), and a Safe Pass (cycling) initiative has started
  • The latest provisional figures for people killed or seriously injured (KSI) on Merseyside roads are substantially lower than for the same period last year (but road deaths are up - see below)
  • There seems to be a genuine passion for providing a good service to the public in all policing areas including road safety.

Reasons for despair

1. Lower priority for road safety
Road safety seems to be discussed as an afterthought, with less time for discussion.

2. Lower standards of data analysis and interpretation
At the meeting, there is generally a sceptical approach to data analysis - for example with discussion about whether the recorded crime figures really reflect reality (following the national scandals of crime being misrecorded in various ways). But this does not yet apply to road safety; there was no discussion about the possible reasons for the fall this year in reported KSIs e.g.
  • a real reduction in road danger
  • a lower proportion of casualties being recorded
  • a change in classification behaviour - so that borderline cases are recorded as slight rather than severe, now that there is a challenging target for KSI reduction
  • a lower number of people walking, cycling and motorcycling as a result of the publicity about Merseyside's problems.
The increase in road deaths in 2017 compared to 2016, should mean that the first of these reasons is not assumed.

3. Only partial scrutiny of road safety - restricted to recorded road casualties
The meeting considered only road casualties, but bad as they are, a far greater problem is the fear of injury which severely restricts the mobility of those who do not own a motor vehicle (the majority of the Merseyside population). Many children cannot walk or cycle safely to school or to explore the world, and this is leading many of them to develop obesity, a life-changing event from which they probably will never recover, and on average will die younger. And many people with impaired mobility due to age or disability cannot leave their homes because pavements are blocked by parked cars, roads cannot be crossed (due to illegal speeds and wrong speed limits), and junctions canot be negotiated safely (illegal driver behaviour and poor design).

These limitations of mobility due to fear of injury were ignored at the meeting and yet they have been raised with decision makers many times. There seems to be no recognition by the Police that a road that has no casualties because people are too scared to use it must not be considerd a safe road, and the Police have a duty to act appropriately.

4. Lawbreaking by Merseyside Police and the death of Esme Weir
The Scrutiny meeting might be expected to consider the continued lawbreaking by Merseyside Police drivers - namely illegal parking on pavements. Complaints about Police lawbreaking have been made for years, but the attitude has generally been that pavement parking is a trivial matter, and the many warnings that someone would be killed have been ignored. The death of 4-year old Esme Weir, killed in Neston, Wirral, by a Wallasey driver parking on a pavement http://www.wirralpedestrians.org.uk/files/echo_article_on_esme_weir.pdf should have changed all that but it appears to have had no impact on this attitude.

In some circumstances, the deaths of children are discussed in detail and there is a commitment to ensure that the tragedy is not repeated - the names of Victoria Climbie, Holly and Jesica, and Baby P are familiar to many people - and big changes were made after these deaths. The death of Esme Weir seems to have been met with indifference by the councils and police forces most involved - and there seems little interest in action to prevent a recurrence.

The continued lawbreaking by Merseyside Police is extraordinary. It sends out a combination of messages including:
  • Merseyside Police are above the law
  • compliance with road safety laws is optional.

Both PCC Jane Kennedy and ACC Ian Critchley have been made aware of the continued lawbreaking by Merseyside Police, but there was no discussion of the extent to which inaction and lawbreaking by Merseyside Police contributed to the death of Esme Weir, and no discussion of what measures should be implemented. Wirral Pedestrians Association has still not receive a proper response to its simple low-cost recommendations on tackling pavement parking (http://www.wirralpedestrians.org.uk/files/wpa_pavement_parking_recommendations.pdf).

5. Wrong guidelines on 20mph enforcement and the death of Thomas Edwards
The evidence is that
  • a large majority of the population want extensive 20mph speed limits where people walk and cycle, and
  • slower speeds reduce casualties (e.g. with a 40% reduction in casualties in the Grundy study of London 20mph zones).
So it might be expected that Merseyside Police would be enthusiastic about the introduction of 20mph speed limits, but there has been little enforcement, and the justification for this lack of enforcement includes reference to obsolete national guidance - see https://www.wacm.org.uk/56.html.

Both PCC Jane Kennedy and ACC Ian Critchley have been made aware of this error, but there was no discussion of this point at the meeting, no discussion of the extent to which the error contributed to the recent death of 16-year old Thomas Edwards in Sefton Park (where the 20mph limits are widely ignored) and no discussion about what should be done.

6. No discussion of poor road safety rankings
In many of the topics discussed at the meeting, there was consideration of the position of Merseyside Police relative to other police forces, looking at national comparisons, regional comparisons, and comparisons wih similar forces. In two areas, rape and burglary, Merseyside Police have figures at the bottom of the rankings, and in each case there is a programme of work to see what should be done. But the meeting did not discuss the relative positions of Merseyside Police for rates of serious road casualties - bottom for pedestrians killed or seriously injured (https://www.wacm.org.uk/30.html) and bottom for child cyclists killed or seriously injured (https://www.wacm.org.uk/31.html), or where Merseyside Police is not following best practice.

7. No encouragement of victims to report motoring crime
Merseyside Police should be encouraging victims of speeding and other motoring crime to report crimes, especially as they affect the most vulnerable - in the same way as the Police now encourage victims of hate crime and domestic abuse to come forward. Instead, there are many anecdotes of officers tring to evade responsibility - the Scrutiny meeting should be monitoring this.

Why does Merseyside Police have far lower standards in road safety than in other areas?

How can an organisation that consists largely or entirely of caring competent people give an uncaring and incompetent service to the public in one of its key areas of responsibility?

There seem to be problems in Mersyside Police in the area of road safety, in contrast to other areas where HMIC inspections give good assessments.

A big problem with road safety decision making in Merseyside Police seems to be the lack of external inspection. HMIC performs regular announced and unanounced inspections of Merseyside Police, and the HMIC website contains reports on each force with comparative rankings - but it does not do this for road safety. So there is relatively little opportunity for best practice to be disseminated, for poor practice to be challenged, and for the nudge that comes from a looming inspection to help motivate people to get things done - and the impression given is that road safety is not a core function of the police.

Without external inspection, groupthink, overconfidence and other biases in decision makers can flourish, and they can succumb to "the patronising disposition of unaccountable power", as the Right Reverend James Jones described it in his Hillsborough report - see https://www.wacm.org.uk/59.html.

There seems a clear need for the work of HMIC to be extended to the road safety function of the police, and for Merseyside Police to respond promptly and competently to concerns of poor practice.

Report on a previous meeting

See https://wacm.org.uk/5.html for a report on the Merseyside Police Performance and Scrutiny Group meeting of 2 March 2017.

Last updated: 24 May 2018