Anger as bobbies escape speeding fines

Norfolk police were accused last night of operating a “one rule for them, another for us” policy on speeding after it emerged that only a fraction of police officers caught by speed cameras last year were punished.

Norfolk police were accused last night of operating a “one rule for them, another for us” policy on speeding after it emerged that only a fraction of police officers caught by speed cameras last year were punished.

Police vehicles in the county triggered cameras 1,307 times during 2006, but officers were prosecuted and fined in just two cases.

Nationally, 84 per cent of motorists caught speeding received fines and points on their licences.

In Suffolk, police vehicles activated cameras 364 times and 11 tickets were issued.

Road safety campaigners and motoring bodies last night said the figures were “excessive” and warned that there would be a perception that the police were enforcing the law unfairly.

Police drivers are granted exemption from prosecution for speeding if they have a good reason, such as pursuing a suspect or trying to find a witness.

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Nationally there were 90,480 incidents of speed or traffic cameras being “activated” by police vehicles during 2006. The number of officers served with a fixed penalty notice was 354, according to statistics obtained under the freedom of information act.

Only one in four of the police motoring offences involved marked vehicles with blue lights flashing, indicating officers were responding to emergencies.

Edmund King, of the RAC Foundation, said even if more than a quarter of the cases were emergencies, the figures still seemed “excessive”.

The total number of officers who have escaped a penalty is probably much higher, as figures were unavailable for 15 of the 43 police forces across England and Wales.

Norfolk police said last night that it operated a “very strict interpretation” of the law and required all drivers caught by cameras to submit a written report to his or her commander to determine whether an exemption should be claimed.

It said exemptions would only be sought where fully justified and authorised by law, and must be signed by a senior officer of at least superintendent rank.

But Paul Smith, founder of the Safespeed campaign, said: “These figures will add considerably to the public suspicion that 'it's one rule for them and another for the rest of us'.

“This tension between the police and the public is a consequence of the public feeling that they are not being treated fairly. It happens because we are handing out millions of pounds in speeding fines to members of the public and they don't feel they are being treated the same way as police officers.

“We do need police officers to use their speed limit extension from time to time to get to incidents. The problem is they use this exemption as a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

Roger Vincent, spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), added: “The police have a tough job to do at times but the manner of their driving should not unnecessarily endanger themselves or members of the public.

“It's important that at all times, where possible, they are obeying the road traffic laws. At times they have to respond very quickly. There are some times they don't need to do it.

“It's a question of it being managed properly by senior officers to make sure lives are not unnecessarily put at risk.”

A spokesman for the Police Federation, representing rank-and-file officers, said: “Sometimes officers have to break speed limits or go through red lights.

“Can you imagine the public backlash if they were slow getting to a serious incident because they sat in a queue of traffic at lights?

But at the same time it doesn't give officers carte blanche to be a danger to the public.”

Norfolk police said in a statement that it had adopted a “very robust and transparent approach to dealing with police vehicles being driven through speed cameras in excess of the limit.”

It continued: “These procedures are aimed at identifying the officer driving the vehicle and assessing the relevant circumstances to decide whether the actions of the officer were reasonable and appropriate, in the course of their duties.”

Where this was not the case, it said, procedures were in place to ensure officers were dealt with under the justice system and monitored by the force's professional standards department.

“All Norfolk Constabulary police officers are required to notify the constabulary's professional standards department when they have received a fixed penalty notice, or summons to court, for any speeding offence issued in any county regardless of whether they are on or off duty.”

Police drivers who activate one of the county's 46 speed cameras while on an emergency call must report the incident over the radio to the force control room, where it is logged.

The law states that the drivers of fire engines, ambulances and police cars are exempt from prosecution for speeding if observing the limit might “hinder the use of the vehicle for the purpose for which it is being used on that occasion”.

“Norfolk Constabulary vehicles respond to around a quarter of a million incidents a year, during the course of which they travel over seven million miles a year through one of the most diverse geographic counties in the country,” the force added.

“Police vehicles and their drivers represent a constantly visible facet of the constabulary to the general public. All members of the constabulary who use a police vehicle are aware of this and are aware of their responsibilities to colleagues and other road users to drive within their training levels and the prevalent circumstances at the time.”

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