Team Leader for Safety Camera Enforcement
I’m not entirely sure what I expected the safer roads unit to look like. I have no memory of having ever actually seeing a camera officer – just the big fluorescent vans. I suppose I was expecting the office to either look equally fluorescent (although I don’t know why it would look like the vans) or to be a sort of drab, boxy grey shrine to health and safety.
Actually, the office looks like most offices I’ve ever been in. There are banks of desks, lots of screens, and clearly it’s been somebody’s birthday – there’s a half empty box of brownies on a central table, and a lone purple balloon floating up off the back of somebody’s chair. I can see a few police officers dotted about in full kit, but there are other people in normal work-wear, and some in what I realise are the powder-blue shirts of the camera officer’s uniform.
Tony isn’t in uniform – although he is wearing a shirt in a similar shade (perhaps in solidarity with his officers). Around his desk other people’s monitors are filled with stills of traffic, and I see that they’re cropping them down to get a clear shot of the registration plates. By contrast, on Tony’s screen is a spreadsheet.
We sit down together and I’m given a mug of tea and a brownie. I ask him what it is, exactly, that he as the ‘team leader for safety camera enforcement’ does.
‘Plan the duties for the officers so that they’re getting their fair share of all the different aspects of the role. Making sure deployment is what it needs to be for the ratio of each area… I oversee the vans and sites, the officers’ wellbeing and manage the impact on the rest of the department.’
He reels it off with an air of comfortable familiarity which is impressive for somebody who’s been in the role for 14 months.
‘I was a camera officer for 17 years. I’m actually a bricklayer by trade, but there’s been a lot of things since then [he’s not exaggerating]. I applied for a job in procurement in Merseyside Police. I never applied to be a camera officer… a week or so later I got a phone call asking if I would like to be a camera officer. I thought I’d do it for a few months before I started my own business in garden care… but I’ve been here ever since.’
I ask him what’s changed, and find it hard to believe when he tells me that they didn’t have uniforms and they didn’t have marked vehicles. I can understand the necessity of a uniform, a group of anonymous people photographing your car could prove unpopular – although, as I say to Tony, it’s a pretty unpopular job anyway.
‘Public perception is what it is. They know we’re not police officers. When you’re out and about and you’re getting abused, that’s not nice. You do get loads of abuse. I’ve had people face to face with me. It can get quite hostile. That’s another part of the planning process. When I do the van duties for the week I’ll match the personality to the location and to the time of day. One was injured recently, one was smashed into in the back of the van. But you can’t legislate for that.’
I ask him if he thinks it would be different if they were police officers.
‘We’ve proved it. A lot of times when the team are going out, the sergeant will ask where we’re going. And a couple of times he’s been in the back of the van with me and someone’s come knocking, and then he just opens the door and it’s “sorry officer I didn’t know you were there” and it totally diffuses the situation. It’s like when we have to call in – which we do have to, quite a bit – a police response vehicle will be there in a few minutes. It changes everything. That’s how the whole section 38 thing came in.’
I ask what section 38 is.
‘Section 38 is when someone tries to obstruct us in our duty we can prosecute them… Camera officers have section 38 enforcement powers.’
It’s amazing to me that people come to work every day expecting to get abuse, to the point where legislation has to be brought in. I know why it is though, so I ask the question.
‘Is it a money trap? No. Because people’s lives depend on it. It’s not for profit. It could be considered a cash trap as far as the public are concerned but what the public don’t realise is what goes on behind the scenes, and what happens to the revenue that gets generated. If you look at the figures for the past four or five years it’s been pretty flat. Because of the way we plan it, how we manage the operations, all the communication, being more proactive.’
I want to know what he means about being more ‘proactive’.
‘More proactive to what the public wants, more proactive to our historical data. Looking at my historical data I can see where the potentials are for sites. We will go out, and we will know from the KSIs [numbers of people killed or seriously injured] and the information – people ringing up or requests we get through the Chiefs office, the PCC – can we go and look at this – and we’ll go out and look at it and see if there’s potential there.’
I had no idea that people were actually requesting speed cameras.
‘The councils always want us there… the public want it because the want to see us on the roads. I know I’ve got a certain number of vans, and a certain percentage based on KSIs, so I have to plot in to see how I’m going to reach those percentages.’
I’m getting lost with this a bit, so I ask for an example.
‘So, say if 28% of the number of people killed or seriously injured in Merseyside are in Liverpool. So 28% of my cameras, per week, will go to Liverpool… The KSIs is always going to be top of the agenda.’
I ask if everybody’s happy with that enforcement spread.
‘You’re never going to get it right. Councils and members of the public often want us to enforce in places that are unsuitable. We look to engage with the councils to provide the infrastructure for such things as hard standings and off-road parking. Even if we can cover the cost of a camera for a site, often councils don’t have the budget for the infrastructure.’
It seems as though Tony’s job means that he will permanently be stuck between a rock and a hard place. People he catches will be angry with him, believing it’s a money trap. Residents of streets who want enforcement will be angry if they don’t get it. If the number of people caught speeding goes up there will be negative press. If the number of people caught speeding drops, questions will be asked about whether his proactive approach is working. It’s hard to imagine what a good professional day for Tony could possibly look like, so I ask.
‘Sometimes there’s cake.’ He says, wryly.
My first impression was accurate: this really is just like any other office.