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Should I stop for an unmarked police car?

A post on social media shows there are a lot of people wondering what the answer is.

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“If a car flashing for you to pull over or stop is unmarked, unless you are 100% certain it is the police, do not stop.” – That is the official advice given by Sussex Police.

Various posts have been circulating social media regarding unmarked police cars, one in particular springs to mind that has been shared over 40,000 times (accurate at the time of publication).

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It details the story of “Lauren”, who was driving to visit a friend when she saw the dreaded blue lights flashing in her rear-view mirror – an unmarked police car was attempting to pull her over. Lauren’s parents warned her about unmarked police cars, and advised her to “wait until she got to a service station”. Remembering this advice, she called 112 (not to be confused with 101, the police’s non-emergency number).

The post claims that 112 is “an emergency number on your mobile that takes you straight to the police because 999 does not work if you have no signal”. These claims are unsubstantiated and a quick search on Google reveals that there is no advantage in using 112 over 999. Both will take you through to the emergency services.

But back to the main point of this Facebook post. After speaking with the police, Lauren was told that there was not a police car in her location. The operator told her to “keep driving, remain calm”.

So the story ends with this unmarked car being surrounded by four police cars. A man was pulled from the car and it turns out he was a convicted rapist and was wanted for other crimes too! What’s perhaps most startling, is that a story like this didn’t get any attention from the national press…

The post goes on to say: “I never knew that bit of advice, but especially for a woman alone in a car, you do not have to pull over for an UNMARKED car.

“Apparently police have to respect your right to keep going to a ‘safe’ place.

“You obviously need to make some signals that you acknowledge them, ie. put on your hazard lights or call 112.”

I don’t know what the original poster’s obsession with promoting 112 is but, as we already established, it is no different from dialling 999.

I’m always suspicious when it comes to posts like these: the majority of them contain a pack of lies and/or (delete as appropriate) completely unfounded claims. So, after looking through the comments, I found most people were taking this story at face value. However, nobody knew whether or not it is a legal requirement to stop for an unmarked police car.

So here it is. The official advice from Sussex Police if there is an unmarked police car behind you, flashing you to stop:

“An unmarked police car can stop vehicles, but it must contain a constable who MUST be in uniform in order to carry out the stop.

“If a car flashing for you to pull over or stop is unmarked, unless you are 100% certain it is the police, do not stop. Drive steadily to the nearest public place (for example a petrol station where they are open till late, a police station or somewhere there are a lot of people) and then stop. If you are in a relatively deserted area, as a last resort, consider looking for a house that is obviously occupied and pull into the driveway. You can always apologise to the householder afterwards.

“Try and signal that you have acknowledged the request to stop and indicate the action you are taking (put your flashers on or signal by pointing from the driver’s window etc.). Don’t drive off at great speed making the police think you are trying to get away.

“Keep the doors locked until you are happy it is the police. Have your mobile at hand just in case. You can ask to see a warrant card, which should carry the police officer’s name and photograph, through the closed window.

“Incidentally, if you are suspected of drink/drugs driving none of these actions would invalidate an officer giving you a preliminary test as you have only temporarily interrupted your journey and are still driving for the purposes of that law.”

And for those wondering if Lauren was right to use her mobile phone to call the emergency services while driving, Sussex Police say:

“The use of the mobile phone to call the emergency services on 999 is permitted under the regulations, if you are acting in response to a real emergency and it is not safe or practical for you to stop to make the call.”

The story of “Lauren” may or may not be true, but there is one thing we can take from this post: If you’re worried about pulling over for an unmarked police car, don’t do it.

Opinion

Are the days of our local PCSO’s numbered?

With Norfolk abolishing the role of PCSO’s will other counties including Sussex eventually join suit?

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[Image created from Sussex Police Stock Library for illustrative purposes]

It was a surprise move described by Norfolk police as ‘ground-breaking’.

Last October (2017) plans were announced aimed at delivering what the Norfolk force described as ‘effective and efficient policing set against unprecedented increases in complex crimes and a £10m savings requirement by 2020’.

Essentially two areas were being addressed.  The first a review of their neighbourhood resources and in such a removal of their PCSO roles allowing an increase in police officers.

The second, an investment in detective and specialised investigation resources.

It should also be added that they also closed seven public counter offices.

In all, 176 staff found themselves potentially out of work.  Since the announcement last year however, the majority have been redeployed within the force with many now becoming police constables.

All these changes came into force in April this year and now 7 months later we look with fascination at what effect this has had and what the repercussions could be across the country.

A spokesperson for Norfolk Police said:

“The changes enabled us to invest in frontline resources and place more police officers in roles that support our local neighbourhoods. Community engagement and neighbourhood policing continues to be at the core of our model through 49 Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNT). Each team has at least one Beat Manager focusing on local priorities and problem solving local issues. This, coupled with the work of the seven Engagement Officers who are based in each district, and 14 Sergeants dedicated to neighbourhood policing ensures the force remains responsive to the needs of local communities while being able to meet the challenge of complex crimes such as child abuse and cyber-crime.

Additional initiatives include Operation Moonshot, which uses intelligence innovatively to prevent and deter criminals across the county and Operation Solve. Operation Solve has effectively taken demand from the frontline and offered a more efficient service to the public with residents and business being able to report their crimes directly to the force through our website. Using officers on restricted or recuperative duties, Solve investigates crimes such as retail theft, making off without payment and shoplifting.”

There has been so much talk recently of the need for more officers on the streets around Crawley.  Announcements made of the huge amount of investment being poured into Sussex Police and the sheer number of new officers being trained.

But what has happened in Norfolk could have profound implications everywhere, none more so than in Sussex and in particular Crawley where serious crime appears to have had an alarming increase.

Why?

The reasons behind Norfolks decision were also based on the sheer volume of crimes that they did not have the resources to handle.  They needed more officers.  They needed to take action.  They needed to take a grasp of the situation and actually engage in a way that visibly showed everyone that they meant business.

But wait, isn’t this exactly what is happening right now here?  Have we not seen a rapid increase in serious crime?  Do we not need to see more visible officers on the streets?

Our Police Commissioner will happily tell us about an extra 200 officers coming to Sussex…by 2022.

200!  Across the whole of Sussex?  In 4 years?  And how many will leave in that time period? Answer is 150 a year.  Ok, before this sounds worrying let’s explain one thing.

Sussex has to recruit 150 officers a year to ensure there are no shortages.  What this extra 200 means is that an additional 50 officers a year for the next four years is being added to the numbers.

The very presence of an officer can turn around a situation and give calm to peoples anxieties.  Wasn’t this part of the reason for creating PCSO’s in the first place?  But it was also to engage with people in a way that regular officers just didn’t have the time to do.

Well yes, but there is prejudice at play here.  It is a prejudice that stems from the very fact that PCSO’s are singled out not just by their status and responsibilities but also by the very badges they wear.  It is a prejudice that flows through to the very people they stop who do not show even the slightest amount of respect that they would to a Police Constable.

Yes the police need more of a presence, but perhaps the way it has been done so far is worth reconsidering and this is where the idea of removing the PCSO role in favour of Police Constables becomes more attractive.

It would level out a very uneven playing field, remove issues around prejudices and bullying of officers (which if you have ever witnessed between unruly youths and PCSO’s is both brutal and ugly).  Ultimately it would give a boost to the town in a way that it hasn’t so far.

What also makes the Norfolk decision so worth following is how they seem to have devised a way to both increase regular officers AND continue to build the local relationships.

It’s almost them saying “you wanted more officers, well now you have them and they mean business”.

No-one is saying that PCSO’s haven’t played an integral part within the force, nor that they haven’t done great work.  But what Norfolks model could be highlighting is that perhaps a look back to older days could be what has been missing.

We put this to Sussex Police who said:

“We have no plans to remove the role of PCSOs in Sussex. It is a role we value and one which is valued by the people of Sussex. In fact, we have recently recruited 36 new PCSOs who have completed their training and are now out working on the front line in communities across Sussex.

Over the 2018-22 period we will be strengthening local policing in Sussex, with 200 more officers in the force by 2022.”

In an additional show Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said:

“PCSOs are an essential and much appreciated part of our policing capacity to serve communities across Sussex and I have no intention of changing that.

Sussex Police are recruiting PCSOs and Police Officers at the highest levels for over a decade and they are being deployed to frontline roles as quickly as the force can train them.”

Defiant response which does show that the county has its own plan in place (well we don’t want to appear like sheep following the heard).

But be under no illusion, changes can and do happen and if the College of Policing sees something happen in a positive way through Norfolks actions then you can be sure they will be letting everyone know and quickly.

Oh and don’t let anyone let you think that all levels of the police force aren’t watching Norfolk closely – because they are!

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