Police officers in an area of London were each ordered to issue fines to ten cyclists a month following the recent deaths of six bike riders in the capital.
A senior Metropolitan Police officer has said that his order was misinterpreted and that the force’s Operation Safeway initiative targets all road users, not just those on bikes.
However, concerns have been raised by cycle campaigners regarding bike riders being targeted and police setting targets.
The police operation, launched earlier this week, has seen officers take to the streets to target law-breaking road users and issue fixed penalty notices as well as giving safety advice to cyclists.
But according to an email seen by The Times, one senior officer instructed traffic police to specifically target cyclists.
In the email, Inspector Colin Davies from the Met’s South East Area Traffic Garage said: “All, can you please cascade this onto your troops. Officers have four months to do 40 cycle tickets. Ten per month, 2.5 a week. Most officers are nearing or have even achieved their other targets. This will give them a renewed focus for a while.”
The Times said that according to serving police officers, the order was tantamount to “discrimination” against cyclists and they also queried how handing out £50 fines to riders would improve safety.
However, Chief Superintendent Glyn Jones, who is in charge of the Met’s Traffic Command, said that while he had set the 40 ticket per officer performance target, it was meant to apply to a range of offences, not all of which can be committed by cyclists. He confirmed that he has now clarified his instructions.
Offences he highlighted include ignoring traffic lights and careless or inconsiderate cycling, but also stopping beyond Advanced Stop Lines at ‘bike boxes’ at traffic lights or on Barclays Cycle Superhighways.
“The e-mail from the inspector was a genuine misinterpretation of my direction,” he explained. “The offences that relate to the cycle highway and advanced stop lines can actually only be committed by motorists; and contravening traffic lights is dangerous regardless of who commits it.
“Our intention from the very beginning has always been to target dangerous road use by all road users and encourage everyone who uses our roads to be responsible and consider others around them.
He added that the inspector in question “has now issued a corrective instruction to his officers.”
British Cycling policy advisor, Chris Boardman, said that the police should be concentrating their efforts on larger vehicles.
“If you don’t have the resources to prosecute everyone who breaks the law, then it makes sense to start with the people who can cause the most harm and work down from there,” he maintained.
“The bigger and heavier the vehicle you have got, the more damage you are going to do.
“I certainly would not let law-breaking cyclists off the hook but they wouldn’t be top of my list.”
National cyclists’ organisation CTC’s policy director, Roger Geffen, also expressed concern, saying: “They may well nick cyclists for things which are not offences. If it leads to that sort of perverse enforcement then that would be very worrying.”
Others raising disquiet about police setting targets, irrespective of the type of road user, include home secretary Theresa May and shadow transport secretary, Mary Creagh, as well as AA president Edmund King, who said: “In terms of traffic policing, we do not think there should be targets for cyclists or drivers.
“It should be about targeting the most dangerous people on the road, irrespective of some arbitrary target.
“Targets put pressure on some police officers to give tickets when they are not required.”
On the opening day of Operation Safeway on Monday, police issued 150 fixed penalty notices to drivers and cyclists, mainly for using a mobile phone while driving or passing through a red light.
Some 650 officers were involved on the first day of the initiative, which will ultimately involve all 2,500 of the Met’s traffic police.
A similar initiative last week saw lorry drivers and cyclists targeted at several locations in Central London, with the latter given safety advice including being told they should wear helmets and hi-vis clothing.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.