West Yorkshire Police is creating the seven days a week, 365 days a year “semi-covert” squad to clamp down on anti-social behaviour on the roads after increased concerns that traffic calming and reduced speed limit zones are just not doing the job.
A head of roads policing role is also to be re-created as part of the “uplift” of traffic officers, just 14 months after it was dissolved as part of a spending review enforced by Government funding cuts.
But money has been set aside in this year’s budget by police bosses, who say road safety is a “key priority”.
The overhaul - part of a three-year action plan to make the region’s roads safer - comes as new figures reveal that the overall number of serious casualties in the region has actually fallen by almost a fifth.
But Leeds and Bradford remain hotspot areas for incidents and “criminal use of roads”, and Leeds’s rate of reducing injuries and deaths is slower than the rest of the region.
In Leeds, 331 people were killed or seriously hurt in accidents last year. This was a seven per cent decrease overall, but the numbers of children and cyclists hurt rose slightly.
Across West Yorkshire, there were 886 deaths and serious injuries last year, an 18 per cent fall.
Leeds is already doing lots of work to improve its road safety, including a wider rollout of 20mph zones - but concerns have been expressed about their effectiveness in recent weeks by campaigners.
Senior police officers told a panel of councillors at Leeds Civic Hall this week that the way roads policing is being delivered has “significantly changed”.
“Previously we didn’t have a bespoke roads policing strategy for West Yorkshire, but we now do,” the panel was told.
“We are now back to having a fully functioning and separate road policing unit for West Yorkshire.”
The meeting was told that the chief constable has “uplifted roads policing by 25 officers”, taking the unit to 155 officers.
The panel heard that the 25 new roles will be a specific team which will tackle “criminal use of roads” and anti-social behaviour across West Yorkshire, but specifically in Leeds and Bradford, the hotspot areas.
The officers will still be trained in wider policing skills and will be called on to provide support where needed.
Chairman of Leeds City Council’s infrastructure and investment scrutiny panel, and a councillor in Middleton, Paul Truswell, said that tackling speeding and reckless driving was “one of the top priorities in local communities”.
“It’s really good to hear there is more resource going into traffic policing,” he said.
“Ward councillors can push for more traffic calming, more engineering, more 20mph zones. That’s fine, it does reduce speeds overall, but it doesn’t tackle that hardcore of reckless and irresponsible...nutcases that plague all our areas, and where enforcement really is the only [answer].”
He pointed out, however, that since 2010, West Yorkshire Police has lost “something like” 1,200 officers and 800 civilians staff, noting that “although you are recruiting again...you won’t be replacing all the ones lost”.
The meeting was told that as part of the new crackdown, a fleet of new , plain “semi-covert” cars would be used as the “frontline for tackling criminal use of the roads”.
Specifically targeted would be “the extreme levels of driving that we witness in Leeds and in Bradford, in certain areas”.
The 25 new officers will work in two teams, 7 days a week, 365 days a year,
Gary Bartlett, Leeds City Council’s chief officer for highways, told the panel that though his department takes a “robust approach” to dealing with safety issues, alongside police, “we haven’t got a silver bullet to it”.
“It a difficult one to tackle, but it’s about striking the right balance between putting physical measures in and working with police on enforcement,” he said.
West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, said: “Last year I was able to set a budget, with the help of our communities, to recruit 300 new police officers. A number of these officers have been dedicated to roads policing, as part of the Neighbourhood Policing footprint across the county, which is what has allowed this new team to be established.
“Road safety is a key priority for our communities and this team will proactively operate across West Yorkshire to tackle criminals using our roads and improve road safety generally.”