Monday, 11 February 2013

The Failure of Cambridgeshire Police.

I was on the receiving end of a road rage incident today where a driver drove their car at me. There was no collision, I did nothing to antagonise the driver, I was simply riding my bicycle legally and happened to be in their way. I was shaken up. I called through to the Police on 101.

What follows is (so others tell me) is a typical response from Cambridge Police when you phone through an incident as a cyclist. The summary of which is:

  • No independent witnesses? Do nothing.
  • Make the victim jump through as many hoops to avoid recording anything. 
  • Above all, make sure this incident is not recorded as a crime for the statistics.
  • Advertise record 'low' crime rates.
Cambridgeshire Police has a reputation for being institutionally anti-cyclist. I personally think you'd get the same treatment as a pedestrian, and for many other types of crime.  The worst part for me is having no way for the Police to record and categorise car-cycle incidents. We often hear the phrase, "if you don't report crime, we can't do anything about it". I have tried several times to report serious incidents over the last decade with similar results and get no action.

This is my recollection of the conversation. The Police's paraphrased words are in blue.

I phone 101 on my mobile from the street.

Your location is not recognised, putting you through to an operator ... Which Police station? Cambridge .... If you know the extension number of the person you require press 1 if you [repeating the registration number over and over in my head] .... or hold for an operator ... Cambridgeshire Police how can I help? I've been forced off the road ... I'll put you through. [seriously frustrated now]

What happened? [I describe the incident]. You poor thing, let me take some details. Phone number? [tappity tap] address? postcode? [the driver will be long gone now] registration of the vehicle? description? Here's your incident number ....

Hang on! This was a serious incident I am shaken up, I am standing at the side of the road. I want somebody to speak with the driver.

OK, [tappity-tap] We have interview slots at Parkside at 10am and 5pm. 
What about Histon Police station? I am 5 mins away. It opens at 4pm. [I indecisively grumble]
Let me speak with my supervisor. I'll call you back. [three minutes later]
He says as you were forced off the road this is being treated as a road traffic collision. 
[Fab! now we are getting somewhere] Report your incident within 24 hours at any police station.

[An hour later at Parkside]

I was told to come in to report an incident in person.
What happened? I explain briefly. Any independent witnesses? Nobody stopped at the roadside. Won't do anything.  There were following cars. CPS won't do anything without them. [the lady officer really was that harsh, sharp and battle hardened].
What? I was told to come in, I reported this on the phone.
Incident number?  I don't have one, I was in the street shaken up when I made the call to 101.
Can you search by phone number, my name, my address? No, can't do that. Really?

Look, I realise that no prosecution will happen. I just want somebody to speak with the driver so if they see me tomorrow, they won't threaten me again, that's all.  I am quite shaken up.

Can't do that. Why not? Their word against yours. We can't accuse them of something. You won't be doing that, you'll just be talking to them and investigating. Sorry, its policy.
What? I am standing here shaken up after being threatened and you won't do anything? No, not without independent witnesses. What if I was threatened with a knife? That's a different matter.
Err, ok [a bit dazed], turns around to leave. Oh, can I have the incident number. [At this point there is a lot of tapping]. What time did it happen? ... where?  .... Your phone number. 077...
[I realise the officer is hunting harder for a record of my phone call after I was told they couldn't search for it].

[Taps away for a couple of minutes, followed by another few minutes recording my contact details. Obviously my visit to Parkside would not have resulted in an incident record - again!]

Can I have a printout of this incident record? You'll have to put it in writing and pay £10. [I recognise this the data protection act being used here]. Can I just see the computer screen? No, its the Police National Computer, no member of the public can see it. Did you record my dissatisfaction with the whole process. Yes. My supervisor will read it. 

So while this driver gets away with endangering my life, without even getting a talking to. Operation Pedalo continues with 'huge' amounts of officer time spent cracking down on cyclists being foolish to not have lights, and on pavement cycling, most of those who are there because they fear traffic.

[As a side note: I was the independent witness in a separate incident where that cyclist was clipped by a wing mirror by an aggressive driver. The end result was the driver got a talking to. No fixed penalty notice, no CPS. How hard can Cambridgeshire Police make it to reduce bad driver behaviour]

Cambridgeshire Police think Operation Pedalo is successful in reducing cyclist casualty numbers. How untrue that is. This is how Cambridgeshire Police are failing the vulnerable.

This is why faith in Cambridgeshire Police is low. Individual officers do a great and difficult job, but the institution is a failure for vulnerable cyclist and pedestrian road users . It needs fixing and just admitting there is a problem would be a massive leap forward. This is in the city with the highest proportion of people cycling to work in the entire country.

Cambridgeshire Police need to lead the country on cyclist road safety policing not brush the problem under the carpet.

Update 5 Mar 2013

A few days after I decided to phone Cambridgeshire Police back and go up the management chain. After calling 101, I received a call back from a real officer who reviewed calls. It took 15 minutes of discussing my issue for him to realise just how serious my incident was. The information recorded by Parkside Police Station reception staff did not convey my message. If I had been able to see what was recorded at Parkside about my incident there would have been a chance a real officer could have spotted my incident.

After speaking with the real officer, he worked hard, attempting to call the driver of the accused vehicle. They tried several times, and even passed the task to another officer when not available and kept me informed of their attempts. In the final attempt they managed to speak with the accused. He did not admit to anything untoward (expected) but this was enough for me, the warning message had made it, and I learned that this person was not a regular on my commute and I did not have to worry. I also learned that this was yet another case of a driver thinking the footway next to the road was a cyclepath.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this sorry tale, it's don't be brushed off by 101 if you think you have a serious case and should be helped. But, be realistic, something like close passing without malicious intent will go nowhere.


  1. I suppose the solution in future is to say that the driver brandished a knife at you.

    1. "I've been threatened with a deadly weapon" is entirely accurate, and it makes no difference in fact if that weapon happens to take the form of a motor vehicle.

      The police are grossly negligent in failing to take this kind of criminal activity seriously, to the point of actually supporting it.

  2. Why do you think helmet-cams are used so much? It took a strong letter to the Chief Super CC'ed to local MP to get a driver spoken to for forcing myself and my family off the road. Cambridge police are a disgrace when it comes to this type of crime, and I tell every MP this when I have the chance.

  3. Agreed - I have had the same problems. Actually I had an independent witness, but the police were great at persuading her not to bother; after all, the guy didn't kill me.

    I got my driver to be talked-to also, but it required legal intervention from me and also our local MP's pressure.

    The police in Cambridge are effectively the opposition I'm afraid. They don't actually run you down, but they they do a great job of keeping dangerous motorists on our roads.

  4. And of course, the only reason that anti-social driving and anti-social parking haven't topped the polls for the last few years of surveys on "which crimes affect you most" is that they were such a permanent fixture as the top two that they removed those categories from the selections available.

    How do you report the police for aiding and abetting dangerous driving?
    Because that is what they are doing every day, by their refusal to confront it.

  5. Have your say in a forum that Cambridge Police might actually read. Sir Grahams propaganda about reducing cycle deaths and injuries by cracking down on anti-social cycling. Leave a comment on their site.

    My comment there:
    Great! Tackle anti-social cycling! Go after those yobs who run red lights or ride without lights on their cycles. That will help meet your targets to reduce road deaths and casualties amongst cyclist, if only the anti-social ones. But sadly Sir Graham has missed the point, which is to make our roads safer for cyclist, so that more people are encouraged to take up cycling. Clamping down on the few cyclist who abuse the privilege does not attack the root of the problem and will not create a solution.

  6. When I lived in Cambridge I had exactly the same problem each time I reported incidents experienced when cycling in the city to the police.

    On one occasion a taxi driver drove into me deliberately in Hobson St ("punishment" for cycling against the one way system in a street where cyclists are allowed to cycle against the one way system). He then chased me along St. Andrews St and Regents St. before trying to thump me when I parked my bike at the cycle parking on the corner of Parkers' Piece. The police response on trying to report this was immediately to tell me that "cyclists break the law all the time" as if this somehow excused his behaviour and to tell me that they'd do nothing at all without witnesses.

    I also had an incident where someone drove into me deliberately on Arbury Road and got out of car to shout at me that she had done so because I wasn't "on the fucking pavement where you belong". Charming. Naturally the police thought this was my fault as well and again refused to do anything. I did manage to pursue her insurance and got a small payout from them for the damage to my bike. However I gave up on reporting such incidents to the police. It never achieved anything and wasted my time.

    Like you, I assumed that the police were biased against cyclists. However, I'm not so sure that this is the case.

    We also had the experience of our car being written off by someone driving into the back of it while it was parked entirely legally outside a shop in Cambridge. Luckily none of us were in it at the time. I ran out of the shop in time to see the driver and get a name and address from him before he ran away. It turned out that while he'd given me his real name, he gave me a false address. The police were hopeless this time too. I worked out where he lived (he'd given the correct street but the wrong number) but the police still weren't interested. I paid him a visit to make sure, almost got beaten up. He turned out not to have a driver's license, insurance or an MOT for his car. It went on for nearly a year, during which time we had the wreck of our old car in the front garden as "evidence" until eventually the court case went ahead. It was dismissed almost immediately because the police had not bothered to forward all the evidence that I'd found for them to the CPS solicitor.

    This guy, despite his lack of driving license, actually had a driving job and from that time until I left the country I'd often see him driving a van with a company name on the side. He's probably still doing it.

    This incident made me realise that when they're hopeless at defending the rights of cyclists, it's not necessarily because the police don't like cyclists. It could simply be that they're incompetent.

    I expect that the Dutch police might take things like this more seriously, but I can't say for certain. In the 5.5 years since we emigrated I've not had any incidents to wish to report.

  7. Cambridge has a bit of an identity crisis. Touted as the 'cycling capital of the UK' - although there are better cities such as Bristol, probably, but still fall short of our friends on the continent - when in fact beneath the surface, the reality many cyclists face on the roads in Cambridge and surrounding towns is the same as anywhere else in the UK.

    This is why instead of the 4 mile door-to-door route from South Cambridge to work (North Cambridge), i've adopted an 8.6 mile route that takes in the segregated cycle way that runs to the station, and the cycle path through the meadow. Not all bad, as this is a far more scenic route, probably better for me and significantly more relaxing than the shorter route!

    That said, when I do come across motoring-commuters in the on-road bits, they tend to be courteous more often than not, with the occasional (quite bad) exception.

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  9. The reason police are unable to act when they receive reports of road rage is because you could be making a malicious report. You could be someone who may knew the driver and you wanted to cause them harassment and use the police to do so. I'm not saying that this is what you wanted to do but you need to look at the bigger picture. I'm sure if these operators and enquiry office staff were allowed to get someone to speak to the driver then they would do so. You probably only had success in having a 'real officer' speak to the driver because you complained. This also sends out a bad message and makes other members of staff incompetent. Their policy has always, unfortunately been, that without any independent witnesses there is very little they could do due to the malicious harassment rubbish.