The Black Hole
Something that has concerned me for a long time about the Operation Considerate reporting process is that, a lot of the time, it feels like something of a black hole: lots of stuff going in, but very little coming out. This concern was amplified recently by a change in the response that does come back after a video file and statement have been submitted, which says:
The matter will be reviewed by a Roads Policing Officer who will determine the appropriate action:
– Summons to court (usually for the more serious offences)
– A conditional offer (usually points and a fine)
– A Driver Educational Course (which they have to pay for)
– A warning letter
– No further action for an offence, but footage to be used to update our intelligence on the vehicle. (Note, intelligence may also be passed on to 3rd parties with an interest in the vehicle, such as Insurance and Finance companies).
– No further action
Where we identify that action will be taken against the driver, please be patient as we will contact the registered keeper in the first instance and a reply can take up to 28 days.
As soon as we become aware the case will proceed to Court we will contact you and ensure that you are supported through the process otherwise you will not receive any further updates.
I have highlighted two sections in that for reference in what follows. You can see that, at this stage no decision has been made about how to proceed with the report; all options are still on the table, including No further action (NFA). Furthermore, if we look at the last part, also highlighted, they are saying that they have no intention of informing us what action is to be taken nor whether any action will be taken at all. For all we know, they could be just filing them all in the bin. This is a problem for several reasons.
Why is this a problem?
This is a problem for several reasons.
First, there is the practical matter of storage of large files. Each file from my own camera takes up to 4 Gigabytes of storage space. Right now, I have roughly 80GB of files taking up space on my hard drive. Had I not started using my safety flag, which has reduced significantly the number of reports I need to make, that would have been somewhere around half a Terrabyte and indeed it was at that level before I started deleting stuff.
To address this issue, we really need to know when no action, or action short of a prosecution, is to be taken so that we can discard those massive data files.
The objective of this exercise is (I hope) ultimately to make our roads safer and more pleasant for people to use. It should reflect the statement that was made by the West Midlands Police’s Road Harm Reduction Team: “if poor driving alters people’s lifestyle choices by making them too scared to cycle on the roads that is a police matter”. People need to see that the matter is being taken seriously by the police or they will lose faith in the process.
In conversations, both real life and on Twitter, I am getting the impression that some people are indeed losing faith in the process. This conversation on Twitter illustrates the kind of rumours that now exist on this:
This user has asked and been told that only 3 out of 41 submissions are being pursued, but that is not the whole story. We don’t know whether any of those are being pursued in a way other than by prosecution, though the following limited information was added:
That last response is quite concerning, though, because as I understand it, it will be the Central Ticket Office that processes the Notice of Intended Prosecution, or more importantly the Section 172 notice, which requires the registered keeper of the vehicle to inform the police of who was driving the vehicle at the time of the incident. Without that information, I can’t see how the police would even send a warning letter, so perhaps the other 38 cases really have been binned as NFA.
We also don’t know how bad the cases submitted were, but sketchy information and rumours like this tend to fill the vacuum and that does not help to build confidence in the process.
Visibility of the process
A large part of the value of an exercise such as this is the publicity it can gain. The massive problem of dangerous, careless, threatening and intimidating driving around vulnerable road users is not going to be solved by trying to deal with one driver at a time. Careless drivers need to be educated and aggressive drivers need to see that they are not going to get away with putting people in danger. To make that happen, there needs to be information coming out of the process: both to individuals who may then publicise the outcomes of their submissions, and through the publishing of statistics. At the moment the system is akin to Dr Strangelove’s Doomsday Machine (though without the mutually assured destruction element): if you don’t tell anyone about it then it is pointless.
Improving the process
If there are indeed many cases that we feel warrant further action but which are not being followed up, then we need to be able make our feelings known about that. If cases are not being pursued for valid reasons, then we need to know what those reasons are so that we can either stop wasting our (and the police’s) time on hopeless cases, or improve the quality of our evidence to allow those cases to be pursued.
Is it really so difficult to provide feedback?
It is quite clear that much of the process is now automated, so it really ought to be possible to have automated feedback to the people submitting the cases as well as statistical information to provide the important publicity and to provide a basis for improving the effectiveness of the process.
A new submission system will be going live on 6th of February. Perhaps we could see some improvement of these important feedback issues at that point so that online submission looks less like a black hole and more like a policing partnership, which, based on the results from the Google search in that last link, seems to be the way things are supposed to be done nowadays. Operation Considerate online submission was set up in the first place in a spirit of partnership, through discussions and trials involving various people including myself; it would be nice if we could continue in that same spirit.
We are eager to help you get the most out of this effort, GM Police, but we can’t help if we don’t have information.