Police chief ‘at war’ with government over cameras

13.42 | 9 August 2010 | | 5 comments

A report in The Times (9/8/10) claims that Britain’s most senior traffic policeman is at war with the government over a decision to cut funding for safety cameras that will put lives at risk.

Chief constable Mick Giannasi has warned ministers of a rise in fatal road accidents as councils switch off safety cameras because they can no longer afford to operate them.

The government has cut £38m from this year’s road safety budget and Mr Giannasi estimates that four out of five cameras will be obsolete within five years, adding that redundancies in back offices mean that enforcement is being curtailed.

Mr Giannasi, the chief constable of Gwent Police, heads the portfolio for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). He said that the government’s decision to cut 40% of the road safety grant paid to local authorities, coupled with a pledge not to fund new fixed cameras, had provoked “unintended consequences for road safety” as councils take cameras out of service.

He said: “We have invested heavily in infrastructure. There is a danger that it is dwindling away. I think a vacuum has been created and people are reacting to that inappropriately. If nothing is put in place, speeds will rise and casualties will grow."

Mr Giannasi believes that driving standards will deteriorate, child road safety programmes will be hit and the education of offenders will cease. He also said The Treasury will lose a “significant” revenue stream.

Mr Giannasi has written two letters to Mike Penning, the road safety minister, setting out his concerns. He said: “If this unacceptable situation is to be avoided, immediate action is essential… I cannot overstate the urgency of this situation and the potential damage that will be the consequence of inaction.”


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    I fully agree with Mick Giannasi, His view must be taken very seriously as he knows exactly the devastation that occurs on our roads daily, he is an expert on the subject. I also agree fully with Mark. We need the government to behave responsibly before more deaths occur on our roads. It is irresponsible to remove life saving equipment from our roads when they are fully aware there is nothing to take it’s place. Pedestrian crossings have proved to work wonderfully in saving peoples lives on our roads,it would be irrisponsible to remove them now wouldn’t it. The same applies to speed cameras! Speed cameras bring in a revenue of their own, why? Because we have many unlawful drivers who speed. Allow the revenue to be kept by the safety department for the running cost of the cameras instead of spending it on something else & you will always have a self sufficient road safety scheme that works very well. The only reason anyone could possibly oppose speed cameras is they want to exceed the speed limit without the fines/points.

    Clare Brixey – Somerset
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    I disagree with Mike Giannasi.

    1st of all I thought that the Police were not supposed to be political activists lobbying the government but mainly because of the damage that speed cameras may have done to road safety.

    Mark of Wiltshire has noticed that deaths peaked in 1966 at almost 8,000 but if we look at the deaths per billion vehicle Kms (perhaps the most important road safety indicator) we find the following:

    Average annual change:
    1950 – 1959 : -2.4%
    1960 – 1969 : -3.8%
    1970 – 1979 : -4.2%
    1980 – 1989 : -6.1%
    1990 – 1994 : -8.3%
    1995 – 2004 : -2.9% (1st 10 years of speed cameras)

    For the 1st 7 reasons that Mark suggests, the 1st 10 years with cameras should have given us the best safety improvements we have ever had, yet we actually had the worst since the 1950s! See http://www.speedcamerareport.co.uk/08_gb_road_safety.htm

    As Mike Giannasi is a Police officer and not an engineer or scientist, it is perfectly understandable that he has been fooled by the spin put out by the speed camera industry, and perhaps that is a good reason why the Police should not be political activists.

    Dave Finney – Slough
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    Excellent expression of all my own views by Mark from Wiltshire. Thank you for doing all the hard work for me!

    David, Wirral
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    What a fantastic viewpoint! Couldn’t have put it better myself. Wholeheartedly agree with the comments made by Mark and just wish that every single road safety team at every local authority would write a comment or do something constructive to support Mike Giannasi, even if it means not providing a full name – I quite understand that all RSOs at LAs are government funded at at times of cuts may not wish to be vocal, but come on, you work in road safety and from my experience over the years, most of you are passionate about your role and for some of you it is a personal loss that drive you on – no pun intended. I would willingly back any campaign to highlight the need for safety cameras but do not intend to mount one on my own – I already did this for seat belts on coaches and minibuses so I know how hard it is but I am not afraid of hard work. So, anyone out there that is willing to join forces with me, I would welcome a call or email, buskuk@aol.com or 01633 274944

    Pat Harris, Director, BUSK South Wales
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    I agree with Mike Giannasi.

    I find it interesting that politicians and the media use emotive language when it suits them. The end of the ‘war on the motorist’. Not too long ago parties of different political persuasions were talking about fighting the ‘war on crime’. As I understand it breaking the law is a crime. If you exceed the posted speed limit you’re breaking the law. If you’re in politics and campaign that we’re the ones that really stand up for law and order and its enforcement, it gets a bit confusing, when you do a bit of a U turn because too many law breakers are being caught by an efficient and cost effective method. The gentle persons are for turning because the ‘too many lawbreakers’ that are being caught don’t like it and are having a whinge. Shame!

    So they’re not going to fund any more fixed cameras. They’ll be happy if local authorities can justify them and foot the bill, but any fines will go straight to the treasury. You fund ’em, you run ’em and we’ll take all the money and look good to the voting law breaker – Impressive spin I have to admit.

    Some of them have said that we need more education. Great I’ll go along with that one, but somewhere in the great scheme of things you’ve got to catch ’em to educate ’em. Are going to deploy hundreds more dedicated roads policing units to do this? Given the state of the public purse, probably not. How’s it going to be done then? What sits at the road side, detects the offence and provides the evidence all quite cost effectively? We know the answer to that question.

    There’s a county in the UK where the police service and other parties are working together on a stunningly effective campaign with the snappy title ‘No Excuses’ (should I use the word ‘partners’, might it become unfashionable as a term and become politically incorrect? Might I get arrested? Probably not – yet!). Ah,what piece of tech helps to run a campaign like this? Know the answer to that one too!

    Before the election a political group expressed the opinion that the governments dependence on fixed cameras has ‘blinded’ to the alternatives. I don’t think that government, local authorities or police services were ‘blinded’ by dependence on fixed cameras. They made no secret of the fact that they were one of a number of law enforcement strategies used, the deployment of which was continually assessed, based on operational requirements.

    So what about the alternatives? One example – speed awareness workshops – a success story in many areas according to the feed back from the majority of road users who attend them. These road users don’t get any penalty points on their licences. Instead they come away with a greater appreciation of road safety,further personal development and a more realistic overview of their driving/riding ability on todays roads. In an area north of the Watford Gap, it has been reported that road users who attend a workshop have a reoffending rate that is three times lower than those who don’t. How do we get road users on these educational workshops – I think we’ve been there before!

    Before the election there was a report in one national newspaper which discussed safety cameras and stated that they ‘milked millions of pounds a year from motorists’, and how a political party will cut funding for them. I remember that this party and the media that lent their support to it used to make a big song and dance about law and order, and if you do the crime you ought to to the time. Ther also went on a bit about personal choice. Guess what – driving/riding past a safety camera breaking the law isn’t compulsory. Many of those that do get to make another personal choice – have their day in court, take the points or attend a workshop. Those who are killed by them don’t get a choice.

    The powers that be really need to avoid the knee jerk and think this one through a bit. If safety cameras go into decline, more road users will break the law and won’t be caught. fewer road users will be given the opportunity to be educated. The incredible positive ripple that has now started will fade out and with it more lives.

    Most people support the use of safety cameras – until they are caught speeding by one! Then it’s in an inappropriate position, hidden up a tree, got an invisibility cloak around it – the make of which isn’t approved by the Ministry of Magic etc! That’s human nature.

    In 1966 there were just under 8000 fatalities on our roads. Since then the numbers killed on our roads has decreased to the levels we have today. What was the level of roads policing in the 60s, 70s and 80s? Some traffic officers of that era have informed me that it was excellent. I believe (my opinion) that the standard of our advanced police drivers and riders (class 1) was excellent then and remains so today. As to their deployment and the management of them as a policing resource; front line officers and senior police management teams of today and yesteryear may well have differing professional opinions.

    A number of factors have contributed to the reduction in fatalities on our roads :-
    * improvements in vehicle technology – ABS, TCS, air bags, crumple zones, side impact reinforcement etc
    * Speed of emergency response (most people now have mobile phones, no need to find a telephone box or knock on a door)
    * air ambulance
    * medical technology – look in the back of a modern ambulance, the life saving and life enhancing technology is amazing – compare it with what you would have found in a cream coloured ambulance of yesteryear.
    * skills and knowledge developed by modern medical practice passed on to first class paramedics
    * emergency calls are filtered and where appropriate an A&E doctor will go out with the first responder
    * seat belt leglislation
    * safety cameras
    * intelligence led roads policing
    * a first class fire and rescue service staffed by dedicated professionals with modern technology at their disposal
    * modern road safety profession with dedicated professionals caring passionately about what they do, developing appropriate evidence led interventions.

    All these factors and dedicated first rate professionals working in teams have contributed to the reduction in fatalities that we have seen over the years.

    Now that the purse strings are being tightened, we should be looking even more closely at camera technology so that this can free up highly trained roads policing officers to continue with the first class work that they already do.

    Let us hope that the powers that be don’t start systematically undoing what has already been achieved.

    There’s never been a war on motorists, there’s never been a war on any kind of road user. What there has been is a planned and generally systematic delivery of realistic and sustainable measures by dedicated professionals and volunteers that has reduced the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads. Evidence based evaluation and analysis has been used to deploy the most appropriate initiative where it is most needed.

    Where a given measure is not appreciated by a particular type of road user, they will tend to feel ‘hard done by’; hardly surprising. What professionals have tried to do is to strike the right balance between reducing casualties, practicality, cost-benefit and the needs of all road users in the given area. This achieved by hard work, planning, a passionate belief in the core values of road safety and a bit of ‘thinking outside the box’. Hardly a war. More like caring in the ‘big society’ that some politicians are fond of using as a buzz-phrase at the moment!

    It has been reported that about 98% of health spending goes on clinical solutions and about 2% on prevention. Politicians of all persuasions have often commented that more resources should be diverted to prevention – so we attempt to ‘close the stable door before the horse has bolted’. This is what dedicated road safety professionals and volunteers do every day – some war.
    came across a mobile safety camera unit (motorcycle) recently. The operator had just finished for the day and had packed the equipment away. I stopped and we had a chat – one motorcyclist to another as you do! A villager from a nearby property came out and praised the operator for the really good work that was being done, and offered us a cup of tea or coffee.

    The mobile unit operating in the village enhances the safety of all road users and is clearly appreciated.

    The powers that be need to think very carefully about Mike Giannasi’s views. Once all the infrastructure and the key support staff are removed, it will be very expensive to reinstate it could be a very costly mistake.

    Mark – Wiltshire
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