Two's the limit for Suffolk police

SUFFOLK police today defended a decision to leave large parts of the county covered by just two traffic vehicles for part of the Christmas and New Year period.

SUFFOLK police today defended a decision to leave large parts of the county covered by just two traffic vehicles for part of the Christmas and New Year period.

The cutback has led to fears drink drivers could escape punishment, at a time when numbers of motorists being caught over the limit is increasing.

Despite reassurances the move is not a money-saving measure, it has angered some serving officers and the Campaign Against Drink Driving.

The police argue they adjust their service to meet demand on bank holidays, claiming they are quiet days for them. They also point to other sections of the force available to assist with tasks normally undertaken by the traffic unit.

But a Suffolk police source, who declined to be named, claimed the move could encourage more people to get behind the wheel when drunk.

"There has been more people getting caught drinking and driving in the past few months," the source said. "It's like anything, if people think there's little chance of getting caught, they'll do it. People will take chances.

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"We (the police) should be seen to be providing a service. I don't think having two people covering such a big area is good enough."

In previous years, two constables and a sergeant have been on duty, the source said.

This year, a sergeant and a constable will cover an area that includes Ipswich, Woodbridge, Hadleigh and Stowmarket.

The decision means the force could only call on a maximum of two traffic vehicles at any one time. On a normal shift, as many as nine officers can be on call from the police's Martlesham headquarters.

The source said: "They're cutting back on every bank holiday because they can't afford to pay the overtime. It has become more noticeable this Christmas.

"Each bank holiday that goes by when nothing particular happens they think it's fine. If something does happen, they'll be completely stuffed."

Simon Stevens, of Suffolk police, denied the issue of staffing levels on bank holidays had anything to do with money.

He said: "While we would not wish to discuss staffing levels in detail for operational reasons, we do aim to provide a level of service according to the policing demand.

"Roads in Suffolk tend to be quieter on the bank holidays of the Christmas period but it's important to emphasise the traffic unit is just one small part of Suffolk Constabulary. Traffic officers are supported at any given time by staff including patrol officers, firearms officers, CID officers, dogs, specials and community support officers."

John Sparrow, spokesman for the Campaign Against Drink Driving, criticised the decision.

He said: "It gives out a message of total disinterest. I would've said it's a time when there needs to be more officers on the road than usual. The sight of a police car is a deterrent in itself.

"If people are aware of the fact there's so few police about it will make them more likely to take a chance."

Figures released last week revealed around 140 more motorists had been arrested for drinking and driving on Suffolk's roads this year compared to last.

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