I HAVE recently been reading a book called The End of Policing, by the American author Alex Vitale. Just to reassure readers, his book is about the American experience and the title is based on the fracturing of relationships between the police and large parts of the black community. The premise of his book is that the police use their law enforcement powers too much and their powers of persuasion too little.

To a certain extent, we saw a bit of this in the UK when speed cameras were erected all over the country. If drivers feel that they are being unfairly targeted then they are less likely to help the police should they see something. This phenomenon of the public thinking the police are unfair is the thin end of the wedge towards the police being seen as an army of occupation.

The Northern Echo:

I am still so pleased that Durham is the only police force in the country that does not have fixed speed cameras. This was a decision made by my predecessor Paul Garvin, but I am happy to support his farsightedness. That is not to say that I condone speeding – we have two or three mobile speed enforcement vans and readers will doubtless have seen them.

No doubt, people are aware of my colleague Anthony Bangham, chief constable of West Mercia, and national lead on police pursuit. On Radio Four recently, he opined that one mile per hour over the speed limit should lead to action against the driver.

I do not agree with him. I think the current arrangements where we do not prosecute until the driver has crossed the threshold of ten per cent plus two should continue. That is not to say that I condone speeding and I definitely do not suggest you do 35 in a 30 or 46 in a 40. That leeway is designed just in case your speedo isn’t accurate. It also caters for a moment’s inattention – we don’t want people to drive constantly looking at their speedo, we want them to look at the road ahead.

I do agree with Anthony in his passion to reduce the number of road casualties and road deaths, but I prefer a balanced approach and that’s why we don’t have cameras. We much prefer education and targeting those drivers we think are the most dangerous: generally, they are the people who drink drive or who drive without insurance.

All our traffic cars are fitted with the most advanced number plate recognition systems which are linked to those cars we know are uninsured. Every day, we seize a couple of cars which are uninsured and that has to make the roads safer.

At the moment, we are booking about 30 drivers a day in the whole of County Durham and Darlington and if you are in range then we will offer you a speed awareness course.

I am not proud of it, but I was booked for doing 69 in a 60 in Cumbria a few years ago and I went on a speed awareness course in Sunderland. What that means is I had to pay £70 and, most importantly, didn’t get points on my licence.

Even I, with my vast experience of the law and policing, learned something on my speed awareness course and I wonder whether we should offer those courses to people even if they haven’t been done for speeding.

WHEN my children first learned to drive, I insisted that they do the Pass Plus scheme in which, once you have passed your test, you pay for several lessons which show you how to drive safely on the motorway, how to drive at night and how to drive on trunk roads at speed. At the time, my children’s car insurance was reduced significantly because they had a Pass Plus qualification.

Tragically, a significant proportion of the people who die on County Durham and Darlington’s roads will have passed their test in the previous two years. If any newly-qualified driver is reading this, please consider enhancing your driving skills and taking Pass Plus.

Another fantastic scheme that has been going in County Durham for a few years is Drivewise in which we go into schools and encourage young people to have conversations with each other around driving: girls insisting that boys drive safely because it is a sad fact that most of the young drivers who die on our roads are boys.

So, when Alex Vitale talks about the end of policing because he feels that police are too focused on law enforcement and oppressing communities, in County Durham we are really clear that we want to police with communities and with drivers so that, every day, people do not need to behave, that’s just what they want to do.

  • Mike Barton is the Chief Constable of Durham Police