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VIDEO: Out with ‘Crash’ and ‘Cookie’ policing Cambridgeshire roads

650 drivers have been arrested in Cambridgeshire this year on suspicion of drink driving

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The day began at police HQ, Huntingdon, and ahead of us was a 10-hour shift shadowing RPU, which is the Road Policing Unit which comprises Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, and Hertfordshire.  Cambridgeshire police had allowed me to accompany two officers as part of a drink driving campaign and for CambsNews to see how our roads are policed, particularly at this time of year.

PC Bennett and PC Cook – dubbed Crash (Ash) and Cookie Monster by their colleagues for reasons we cannot disclose – happily took me into ‘custody’ for the shift ahead.

RPU Ride Along,A14 / Cambridge, Cambridge Wednesday 13 December 2023. Picture by Terry Harris.

RPU Ride Along, A14 / Cambridge, Cambridge Wednesday 13 December 2023. Picture by Terry Harris.

In the coming hours I was to experience a plethora of events that included a call for assistance to support colleagues along the A14 where a driver decamped a vehicle and we were stood down after what seemed insane speeds to get there.

The curious thing of the entire day was no matter how often and why speed was a necessity, as a back seat passenger not once did, I feel nothing other than confidence in what these guys were doing.

What also struck me is what might be in old parlance known as a ‘coppers’ nose’ but in today’s term simply good police instinct – with some technology thrown in of course.

They seemed to know which cars to check, which to stop and were fair in dealing with errant drivers. Mostly the good-natured exchanges I witnessed reflected a firm but fair approach.

Let me give you an example.

We were at the fire station in the centre of Cambridge (near the police station) when they pulled over a white BMW where the driver appeared to have no insurance. To the police, and to the public, this would be viewed of course as a significant issue.

RPU Ride Along, A14 / Cambridge, Cambridge Wednesday 13 December 2023. Picture by Terry Harris.

Crash could have made the woman’s life more of a problem than it turned out to be. Rather than having the car towed, he gave her the option to call someone who was insured to drive the car to come and collect the car, her, and her children in the back seat.

They did of course report her for the offence of driving with no insurance, but on a wet, miserable night in Cambridge she was back home in the warm earlier than she might otherwise have been, hopefully, too, wiser after the event.

She, in true British style, thanked them before she was driven off.

RPU Ride Along, A14 / Cambridge, Cambridge Wednesday 13 December 2023. Picture by Terry Harris.

Meanwhile Cookie, who was watching from the roadside, had pulled over another car for having blue and red flashing lights at the front of his vehicle which turned out to ….a Christmas tree on the top of his car. One could only hope the Christmas spirit has not been too badly dented for the American serviceman driver as he pocketed the duly issued ticket.

RPU Ride Along, A14 / Cambridge, Cambridge Wednesday 13 December 2023. Picture by Terry Harris.

We get to Hemingford Grey in Huntingdonshire. It is dark. Probably around 7pm (time flies when you are flying!). We spotted a very new quad bike. It is perfectly road legal, the rider wearing a helmet, lights full on, but he gets a pull. And for good reason. Cambridgeshire has suffered considerably in recent times from quad bike thefts.

Cookie and Crash chat to the rider to discover that the reason he is riding at this time of night through the village is because the quad bike is being taken away on holiday to Scotland and the rider wanted to increase the mileage before having its first service.

Job done, quad bike on its way, and the rider most happy at being stopped and that police were keeping an eye on possible rural crime.

Now remembering these guys are covering three counties, it was remarkable to discover the absence of any sat nav systems. Experience has simply taught them the highways and byways of all three counties – in itself a remarkable feat. The only time a sat nav is finding, for example, a little street in Luton – but then who would not need a sat nav on those rare occasions.

One early call of the shift was to respond to an emergency call to attend a broken-down van on the hard shoulder of the A14. This was to assist the highways agency who turned up to tow the van to safety. Again, all part of keeping our roads safe and accident free.

RPU Ride Along, A14 / Cambridge, Cambridge Wednesday 13 December 2023. Picture by Terry Harris.

Overall, both officers seemed a little disappointed there was not more to show me. But it did not matter.

The objective was to see policing in action. Unlike edited versions of tv documentaries, the bulk of their work is as regular as anyone else’s.

Their roles are different but actually when you think about having a ‘routine’ night means that drivers are behaving, in the main, responsibly, there are not too many obvious signs of drunk driving, and that we have in the roads policing unit officers equipped and trained to deal with any emergency that might come their way.

RPU Ride Along, A14 / Cambridge, Cambridge Wednesday 13 December 2023. Picture by Terry Harris.

And although we did not get to stop any suspected drink drivers, I did to get see what happens to those arrested on suspicion of being intoxicated when the officers took me to Parkside police station to see what happens if you are stupid enough to have placed yourself in that position.

RPU Ride Along, A14 / Cambridge, Cambridge Wednesday 13 December 2023. Picture by Terry Harris.

The moment of truth. The moment, for some, when careers are put in jeopardy, the moment drivers wish they had not had one for the road.

It is a journey that, regretfully, too many will find themselves on this Christmas and New Year.

 

FACT FILE

The Road Policing Unit (RPU) consists of three police forces: Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, and Bedfordshire. The three forces work together to make the roads safer in all three counties. Officers are trained to deal with various situations including.

The unit is responsible for investigating fatal and serious injury collisions, reducing crime, and increasing safety on our roads. The unit consists of the following specialist teams.

RPU Ride Along, A14 / Cambridge, Cambridge Wednesday 13 December 2023. Picture by Terry Harris.

  • forensic collision investigation – responsible for investigating and reporting on all road fatalities or serious injuries
  • traffic management – responsible for liaising with agencies and local authorities about traffic management, safety schemes, road closures for major traffic events, roadworks and enforcing road restrictions
  • vehicle recovery – responsible for overseeing the police garage recovery scheme and liaising with recovery workers
  • vehicle examination – provide vehicle examination support and offer advice and support concerning collisions, vehicle safety, criminal activity, vehicle detective work, external agency assistance and vehicle types
  • Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR)

RPU officers are out on the road 24/7 and deal with a range of situations from serious collisions to arresting suspects.

This requires all officers who drive the RPU vehicles to complete a high level of driver training which is regularly refreshed. Drivers are also trained in tactical pursuit and containment (TPAC) which encourages them to find an early resolution and safer alternative to pursuits, such as boxing in vehicles or using a stinger to deflate the tyres.

However, there are occasions where it is necessary to pursue vehicles. In these situations, pursuits are well managed, and risk assessed to ensure the safety of members of the public, those being pursued and the police officers themselves.

Police vehicles aren’t modified for performance however we use vehicles which are specific to the role being carried out. For example, road policing vehicles are high performance cars which are equipped with necessary performance, handling, and braking characteristics.

RPU Ride Along, A14 / Cambridge, Cambridge Wednesday 13 December 2023. Picture by Terry Harris.

The vehicles are also frequently serviced and are checked daily by officers.

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