Traffic police to return to Devon and Cornwall's roads
Devon and Cornwall Police are to reintroduce dedicated traffic officers two years after they were axed as part of money-saving measures.
Critics said the move, which follows a spike in road deaths in the region last year, represented a "complete U-turn" by the force.
The new unit – with some 150 staff – will consist mainly of firearms officers who also have specialist road traffic skills.
The final decision, which has been the subject of a number of internal reviews over the last few months, was confirmed by the force this week.
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The Police Federation, which represents constables, sergeants and inspectors, repeatedly raised concerns at the loss of the traffic department amid the rising death toll and fears that average speeds were increasing.
"I think there has been some recognition that it was probably an error not to have a dedicated unit in Devon and Cornwall which have thousands of miles of A-class roads and a motorway," Devon and Cornwall branch chairman Sergeant Nigel Rabbitts said.
"We have also seen a disturbing rise in the number of road deaths, particularly among young motorcyclists.
"It is a complete U-turn and there has been both internal and external pressure for this to happen.
"That being said there are no additional resources for this and one does question what is different now compared to May 2011.
"I hope it is not to the detriment of other resources in the force which are already stretched."
The force axed its dedicated traffic officers as it moved to its new "blueprint" model to meet a £50 million cut in its budget. Former traffic officers were integrated into the "response" department to deal with 999 calls.
While response officers were handed "patrol plans" for when they were not dealing with emergencies, there was an almost immediate drop in enforcement on the roads.
The number of speeding tickets issued falling by half during the first six months of the new system.
Deaths on the roads of Devon and Cornwall rose by more than 50% from 42 in 2011 to 66 last year. Senior officers have always denied any link with the loss of the traffic department.
In the summer the force denied that it was on the verge of re-establishing a roads policing unit.
However, Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Hogg alluded to a possible U-turn by the constabulary, saying more than 100 officers would be "biased towards roads policing but without creating a traffic department".
Devon and Cornwall Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer yesterday told a meeting of the Police and Crime Panel in Plymouth that an extra 22 officers have been transferred to traffic duties, and armed response vehicles are also being given a traffic role.
Assistant Chief Constable Paul Netherton, speaking to the Western Morning News, said: "As part of the strategic policing requirement set by the Home Office it is critical that the force maintains its capability to deal with anything that happens from firearms incidents through the serious collisions on a motorway," he said.
"As a consequence we have reviewed our existing structures and we are moving to having some dedicated vehicles which will have the capability to deal with both serious conflict and firearms incidents but also major incidents, serious and fatal collisions, on our roads.
"These vehicles and staff will be very proactive and when they are not dealing with serious incidents will be carrying out enforcement and prevention."
Mr Netherton said response officers would continue to patrol local roads alongside the new unit, which will operate out of five centres across the two counties.