Every road policing car in Suffolk has enough equipment to close the A14, reveals traffic cop
As Suffolk residents continue to celebrate the holiday season and look ahead to the New Year celebrations, our traffic police are out on patrol keeping us safe on the roads.
But it is not all about booking speeding motorists, as James Marston discovered when he joined Sergeant Julian Ditcham on patrol.
As we leave the Martlesham headquarters of Suffolk Constabulary we are soon on the A12.
Julian said: “Each car has enough equipment to close the A14. There is signage, cones, lights, a shovel and a broom, a tow rope, jump leads, foil blankets.”
Added to which the car carries a breathalyser, hand-held speed laser and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology – tools Julian and his colleagues can use to enforce traffic laws.
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Julian, a sergeant in the roads policing and firearms operation unit, has been with the Suffolk Constabulary for 17 years.
He said: “I started as a probationer in Ipswich in August 1997. I worked in traffic as it then was in 2004 then went back to Ipswich. I came back to the department in 2010.”
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Julian said the roads policing unit has key roles to reduce casualties, education, denying criminals use of the roads, and attending major incidents.
He said enforcement of traffic laws is part of casualty reduction.
He said: “We have what we call the fatal four – seat belt, phone, speed and drink and drugs.
“We still get people who think wearing a seat belt is optional. It’s been the law for more than 30 years and they save your life.”
Julian said education is now a major part of his job helping to make the roads safer with targeted campaigns aimed at raising the public’s awareness of the dangers of the roads.
ANPR lets Julian and his colleagues know if a particular vehicle might be of interest and as we head towards the A14 the machine, which uses cameras both at the front and rear of the patrol car, picks out cars as we pass them.
Julian said: “The machine will indicate whether it might be of interest to us. It might be no road tax has been paid or someone wanted for murder or maybe someone banned from driving.”
Collaborating with Norfolk, the constabularies draw on each other’s resources.
Julian said: “It is such a varied job, I enjoy driving and I ride a motorcycle. And I also enjoy dealing with the public.
“There is no typical day I never know what is going to happen.”
As we move on to the westbound carriageway of the A14, Julian said officers are in constant touch with headquarters via radio communications.
He added: “A lot of people see our officers and think they are going to get booked. Obviously at times you do issue fixed penalty notices or make an arrest but our role also includes helping with a breakdown or attending when something happens like a major accident. I am also a senior investigating officer for road traffic incidents like collisions. We try to find out what has happened and decide which direction the investigation should go, whether to make an arrest at the scene, or how to talk to the families concerned if need be as well as deal with how to recover the vehicles.”
Dealing with carnage on the roads can’t be easy though.
Julian said he and his colleagues are regularly offered counselling after major traffic incidents. The father of two also said the death of children is particularly upsetting.
He added: “I have seen the devastation caused by speed; I have seen the destruction cause by drink driving on the other side of the road. It still horrifies me to see that some people drink and drive.
“People also still drive too fast or too close to the vehicle in front. Everyone seems to be in such a rush, they are all on tight schedules. Officers like me have a high level of training to drive quickly and safely but most people haven’t had that training. We only drive fast when we have to.”
Scanning the horizon, we approach the Orwell Bridge – a stretch of road that sees its fair share of incidents.
Julian points out a small car in front that is driving close to the car in front and a little way over the speed limit.
He said: “People don’t like to be told their driving is not up to scratch.”
Its takes a while – several minutes – but as soon as the driver sees the patrol car in her mirror she indicates and pulls left into the other lane.
Julian said people often move over without looking when they see a patrol car.
He said: “I try to look in my mirrors every few seconds. Some people are a long time before they see the patrol car. If we have the lights and sirens on people should move over when it is safe to do so.”
We head back to base after a quick patrol of the A140 – another road where police are often called.
Julian said: “The Orwell Bridge, the A140 at Coddenham, the A12 at Stratford St Mary seem to be the hotspots of Suffolk’s roads.”
Back at HQ Julian breathalyses me to highlight this year’s drink drive campaign. Within seconds the reading comes up as zero.
He said: “It’s very easy and quick but we still get people trying to breathe through their nose or not blowing into the tube properly.”
Then, just as we say goodbye, Julian’s radio crackles into life – there’s an incident on the Orwell Bridge and he’s back in the car. He’ll probably be first on the scene.