Some of you may have seen the video I uploaded in July 12 showing an interaction I had with a Police Officer in a tactical support vehicle.
I was cycling West along Chiswick High Road, London, and I took the ‘straight on’ lane at the junction before Heathfield Terrace. As I rolled in to the ASL to stop at the red light my camera picked up something that I didn’t hear at the time but would set the tone for what was about to happen. A police van pulled up behind me on my left.
“Why are you in the middle of the road?” the police officer (driving BX58OZB) had asked me. Oddly, despite his vocal ‘concern’ about my road position he didn’t stop and discuss with me and I can only assume he accepted that I had not heard him.
What happened next was even more disappointing. As the lights changed to green I began to set off cycling straight ahead. However, the revs from the police van caused me to look around and it was obvious that the vehicle was going to undertake me at the junction and through a pinch point. This was odd because the police van was in the left turn lane.
As you will see on the video – even though I stopped pedalling the police van still comes within an unacceptable and completely unnecessary proximity to me, a ‘vulnerable road user’ (As defined by the Highway Code).
As I watched the van cut through my course of travel the police officer driving the van offered me advice: ” You should be on the left!”, or something along those lines, and certainly not an apology for undertaking me and cutting through my course of travel at a pinchpoint.
I have a very vivid memory of the police van passing me (Which reminds me of the video to Aphex Twin’s ‘Window Licker’ track) – the silhouette of the driver, the police stripes, and the letters ‘AUX’ printed on the side panels towards the rear of the van. AUX stands for auxiliary, right? No, and this would prove to be helpful in my search for the van.
That was pretty much the end of what happened. I shouted a few things to indicate my displeasure “That was a left hand turn mate! Left turn!”. I genuinely hoped the driver would stop and discuss what had just happened – I could then have walked him over the junction he had just cut me up on and show him that I was in the correct lane, not causing trouble, and just on my way home. But no, the van driver continued westbound towards Twickenham.
When these types of things happen I do go a bit introspective. For the rest of my journey home I thought about what circumstances would make what had happened acceptable. Was I in the wrong lane? Maybe I wasn’t seen? Did I provoke the driver?
I couldn’t find any sufficient answers to these questions to warrant what had happened. You are welcome to ask the same questions and let me know your thoughts.
I believe I was cycling reasonable and was well placed to correct cycle over the junction.
The next day I viewed the footage and it seemed fairly clear to me that it was a case of substandard driving and also a very ignorant and bad attitude – unfortunately in this case by the very people who are paid to ‘protect and serve’.
I complained via two methods. The first was by completing the Roadsafe online form and a few days later I called 101. Bearing in mind Roadsafe is predominately an intelligence tool these types of incidents should be reported via 101 or by visiting a police station.
I called 101 and spoke to a friendly operator.
He asked me what had happened, so I gave him the full details. I remember specifically muttering the AUX letters on the side of the van, but also muttering ‘But AUX / auxiliary would be on every van, wouldn’t it…’ (Woops).
They then asked me a few further questions and read out what had been written down. I agreed that it substantially reflected what happened.
The operator told me I’d get a phone call within the next couple of hours. I did.
The second phone call included me explaining once more fully what had happened. There was some confusion over the number plate because I couldn’t fully view it on the footage and I hadn’t called it out (A lesson if there ever was one..). However I had a partial plate number – it was almost certainly _Y_ _OZ_. The third and fourth digits were almost certainly 56 or 58 and the last letter looked like a B to me.
I have to confess that before making the complaint I wasn’t too worried about not having the full registration number, after all I had a very close time that the incident occurred, the type of van, audio of the driver, some visual of the driver and the direction the van was travelling. Surely the police would be able to, and want to, track it down?
Actually it turns out that there are many vans out at the same time and I was told that although the incident could be noted, it was unlikely with the description I had supplied that it would be possible to track down the driver. Slightly frustrated, I returned to my original footage to try to get clarity on the registration number.
I noted down on a piece of paper all of the distinctive marks, and as much of the registration number as possible. I then headed to the largest search system of information available – Google.
Within 30 minutes I had the full registration number, the police station it was registered to and pictures of the van. It turns out there is a freedom of information document detailing the registration number of all marked police cars, and guess how many Mercedes Sprinter vans there are with the ending being OZB?
A quick search of the registration number in google confirmed it was the van – the AUX is a unique identifier. It was at this point that I remembered I hadn’t insisted on AUX being put down on my original complaint, and no-one had asked me for the three letters on the back of the van. This information would have sped things up significantly.
I proved to myself that I still had a sense of humour when I saw that van BX58OZB - AUX was in a flickr group titled ‘Everyday heros’ and managed a snigger. Let’s be honest, the police in this country are a substantially good force.
With the registration number complete, the complaint could progress. I was asked what I was expecting the outcome to be. I said:
1) Confirmation that in the Met’s view the driving and attitude was substandard
2) A personal apology
3) Retraining for the driver
I was told it wasn’t possible to force the driver to apologise, and also that the driver would have to freely agree to go on a training course.
After discussion, the following was included as the resolution:
1) The officer will be interviewed by a senior officer who will show the video and highlight your concerns in relation to his driving
2) The relevant sections of the highway code will be pointed out
3) The officer will be invited to attend a cycling awareness training course (Sourced by SW19cam)
I was offered the choice between a local resolution and an IPCC resolution. The officer was happy for me to take some time to decide which route I wanted to take.
From my research the basic difference is that a local resolution entrusts the police to complete the complaint and resolution in house. An IPCC complaint would be expected if for some reason there was a believe that the police would not be able to handle it in house, or if it was a more serious complaint that needed to be dealt with independently.
I opted for the local resolution as I felt this was the most proportionate response to what had happened. I look forward to any debate on whether people this was the correct route to take.
As mentioned, I had already ‘Roadsafed’ the incident before phoning 101. By the time I received the below email, I already had the full registration and my complaint was progressing. I did feel some resolve on receiving this apology from the Police Driving Standards Unit:
Thank you for bringing this incident to our notice. I have viewed your ‘youtube’ clip and agree that on the footage shown this does appear to be poor driving by the Police officer.
Unfortunately I am unable to identify the vehicle and thereby the driving as the index plate is not readable on your footage. The vehicle is a protected carrier used by the TSG and local officers of which there are about 150 in the MPS spread all over London. If you have more information that could identify the vehicle, it should have a three letter code on the back on both sides, then I can establish the identity of the vehicle. Every Police vehicle has a logbook that is completed by the driver for every journey so once I can establish the vehicle I can find out who the driver was.
On behalf of the MPS I apologise for this driver’s actions and than you for bringing it to our attention
Police Driving Standards Unit
1 month after making my complaint I received the letter to confirm that the agreed steps had been taken.
Am I happy with the resolution?
Yes, mainly. After reflecting on what happened I accept that it was never going to be considered the most serious of complaints. Having said that, my video does show a Police officer who exhibits a bad attitude and inconsiderate driving towards other road users. Hopefully the formal meeting he had with a ‘senior officer’ will make him rethink his attitudes towards other road users.
Links I used:
Roadsafe London: http://www.met.police.uk/roadsafelondon/
Dangerous driving vs inconsiderate driving from CPS: http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/fact_sheets/dangerous_driving/
Google.com > which helped me find the van:
Freedom of information act, detailing all marked police vehicles. See BX58 OZB Mercedes Sprinter Van:
Flickr Picture of AUX, which is included, amongst other groups, in ‘everyday heros’ LOL!
The AA guide to number plate formats