The Metropolitan Police will trial what they hope will become the ‘gold standard’ of close pass cycling operations in spring, road.cc has learned, with the aim of sending the message to drivers: any cyclist anywhere in London could be a cop.
Sergeant Simon Castle, of the Met’s Cycle Task Force, has confirmed to road.cc this week he has the green light to trial the operation, started by West Midlands Police, which uses a plain clothed officer to identify poor overtaking of cyclists, among other offences.
In the past, the Met has raised doubts about adapting the operation to London roads, but after police in Camden successfully trialled the operation in September 2016 Castle, who describes it as ‘best value roads policing initiative I’ve ever seen’, is now looking to design an operation that could be used at any time, any place in the capital, and is seeking input from cycling groups.
Sgt Castle told road.cc the success of the West Midlands’ operation is the enormous impact it has had with no financial cost to the force – just a few hours of operation time.
“What West Midlands have taught me is it’s not about the impact I have when I’m out there, they have a massive impact when they aren’t out there. That has been the Road to Damascus moment for me: I can be as effective when I’m not out there because there is a threat I might be there.
“You get this halo effect, let’s say we do a close pass operation for three hours in the middle of the day, but there will still be people in rush hour thinking: is that a cop?”
He called what two West Midlands Police officers, Steve Hudson and Mark Hodson, have achieved in their spare policing time “amazing”. In nine hours of close pass operation time they spoke to 130 motorists, with one licence immediately revoked, eight drivers reported for due care and attention offences. Of those, just one person refused roadside education. West Midlands Police say close pass reports from cyclists have halved since the operation began, thanks to the publicity the operation has received.
Sgt Castle believes with the Met’s resources, they could have an even bigger impact in London. The Cycle Task Force is the UK’s first cycle policing unit, with 33 full time staff, including 10 PCSOs, targeting three key areas: engineering, education and enforcement.
Castle says: “We report more than 90 offences in a day, every day; that’s business as usual.
“We have got the resources, we have got the people, we have got the will, we have learnt from what they have done.
“The success of their operation is raising awareness and I think we have got an opportunity to improve on what they have done.
“I think what we are after is something a bit bigger, a bit broader. I want to do it so that the whole of London thinks we can pop up at any time and [make people think]: of two cyclists, which one’s the cop?”
Castle and his officers can carry out the operation during a monthly “proactive week” where they can target any area of London of their choosing, which they have identified as dangerous for cycling. Plain clothed officers will go out on bikes, potentially with motor backup using uniformed officers, to stop offending drivers. Castle says they will aim to identify other offences at the same time.
The details of the operation are still being ironed out, but if all goes well it will be introduced in April, when there is usually a spike in road casualties after the clocks go forward. As with the West Midlands, the operation will focus on education, rather than targets for tickets, something police forces can struggle to see the value of.
The Met Police had a one-to-one session with the West Midlands Police last year but previously said traffic in Central London moves too slowly to transplant the operation to the capital. Sgt Castle is now seeking advice from cycling community on how best to run the operation, and is working with Southwark Cyclists, a branch group of the London Cycling Campaign, on how to proceed.
Simon Munk, the London Cycling Campaign’s (LCC) Infrastructure Campaigner, said: “We hugely welcome this, we think the close pass initiative is a great idea, and overdue.
“Enforcement and general policing on roads hasn’t been a priority, not only for the Met but nationally, but this is a really simple and good way of enforcing road behaviour and really bringing the point home to motorists that they have to behave well and sensibly around people cycling and vulnerable road users. LCC would love to work with the Met on this and other issues where they are thinking about prioritising road danger reduction.”
Munk said to be effective the operation should be run regularly and across the capital, and that it should be adopted by all London police forces, so there are no gaps in enforcement.