Police vehicles in the United Kingdom
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Police vehicles in the United Kingdom are hugely varied depending mostly upon the duties that the vehicle is purchased to fulfil, along with the standard of training the driver has received. One of the oldest and most common police vehicle in the UK is the panda car which is often used in a community policing role and general patrol duties.
Following an emergency call a response car is often deployed to reach the scene as quickly as possible, with regards to public safety. If a vehicle fails to stop when requested by police officers and enters into a pursuit, then a more specialised traffic unit may dispatched.
Road police vehicles in the United Kingdom are generally painted in base colours of white or silver, although silver has become popular in some forces due to the perceived higher resale values after police use is finished. Vehicles are then usually marked with retroreflective livery on the sides and red and yellow to the rear. These markings may take the form of a simple blue, yellow or red stripe down the side of the vehicle, or high-visibility battenburg markings (with blue and yellow the accepted Home Office colours for police use). Some carry slogans, the force crest and/or advertisements for police initiatives.
Panda cars, also known as beat or general-purpose cars, are used to aid in community policing having been employed only for general patrol duties. In some forces these vehicles are commonly low-budget cars and incapable of very high speeds, but in others the only distinction between a panda car and a response car is the standard to which the driver is trained. Basic drivers of panda cars may not be allowed to use all the emergency warning equipment on the vehicle.
Incident response vehicles (IRV) or emergency response vehicles (ERV) are generally deployed when an emergency telephone call has been received relating to a current, ongoing or recent incident or emergency. They often continually patrol a specific area to enable a fast response. Response vehicles tend to be small family cars, with common examples including the Ford Focus, Hyundai i30, Peugeot 308 and Vauxhall Astra. Engine sizes vary according to each forces vehicle procurement policies varying from 1.3 up to 2.0 diesels. Although petrol-powered engines once dominated, diesel engines are now becoming much more common due to their superior fuel economy and therefore lower operating costs.
Response cars can be used in the initial phase of a police pursuit, but can only be used in later tactical phases if the driver is authorised to do so by virtue of advanced driving qualifications.
Response vehicles will generally carry equipment for use at road-based incidents, such as cones, warning signs, shovels, marker chalk and basic first aid equipment. Many response cars now also carry mobile data technology which can be linked to police databases and automatic number plate recognition technology, both mobile and static. Some vehicles will have calibrated speedometers to allow officers to carry out enforcement duties through 'follows' of vehicles.
As well as local response cars, some forces, particularly London's Metropolitan Police Service, also use area cars. These vehicles tend to patrol a larger area and may only deal with specific emergency calls.
Traffic cars, or Roads Policing Units, are larger, more powerful vehicles that are capable of carrying out tasks such as high-speed pursuits, responding to emergencies in a larger area, and carrying a greater amount equipment than a typical panda or response car. It is for that reason that many of the vehicles are estate cars. Common examples include the BMW 330 Diesel, Volvo V70 (with a 2.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine) and the Vauxhall Vectra (with a 2.8-litre V6).
As with response cars, diesel-engined cars are becoming more widespread. As well as estate cars, four-wheel drive vehicles such as the Range Rover and BMW X5 are often used especially for motorway patrols. Police officers are required to undergo specialised training before being authorised to drive these vehicles. They will mostly be fitted with more advanced technology such as video recording, laser speed detection and 360-degree automatic number plate recognition.
Unmarked vehicles are also often employed for traffic duties.
Safe stop tactics
Tactical pursuit and containment (TPAC) is a term widely used by police in the United Kingdom and one which describes a range of measures for managing and terminating pursuits:
- Boxing: Several police vehicles position around the pursued vehicle, bringing it to a slow and gradual stop by boxing the target vehicle in on all sides.
- Spike strip: This method is employed if boxing would be difficult due to the speed or aggressive driving of the target vehicle. A hollow spike tyre deflation device is placed across the road in front of the target vehicle to deflate its tyres. This can safely stop even a fast-moving vehicle, as the hollow spikes allow a controlled deflation to the tyres. This is also known as a hollow spiked tyre deflation system (HoSTyDS) and commonly referred to by the brand name Stinger.
- Tactical contact: This method is only used if there is an immediate danger to life, and if it would be inappropriate to break off the pursuit. Tactical contact involves a police car hitting the back end of the target vehicle, in the hope that it will spin around and lose traction. It is similar to the PIT manoeuvre.
- Static stop: As a last resort, police cars can block off a road in the hope that it would force the vehicle to stop. This tactic requires authorisation from an officer of the rank Inspector or above, as it may cause damage to police vehicles and injury to officers.
- Road block: In extreme circumstances, a Chief Constable may authorise the total closure of a road by placing immovable objects or non-police vehicles in the target vehicle's path, causing it to stop or change direction. This tactic is rarely used due to the high risk involved.
Armed response vehicle
In the UK, most police officers do not typically carry firearms, so many employ armed response vehicles (ARV) to provide firearms support to spontaneous incidents throughout their police area. For this reason ARVs are often powerful or larger cars which can carry large amounts of equipment. Today, the car mainly used is the BMW 5 Series with the Metropolitan Police Service but all other forces use a variety of different vehicle makes. Some forces do not operate dedicated ARVs but instead use traffic cars that usually perform standard road policing tasks but are also able to respond to firearms incidents.
ARVs are usually crewed by either two or three authorised firearms officers.
Motorcycles are used by a number of forces in the UK, typically as part of the Road Policing Unit. Police motorcycles are also used in road safety initiatives such as Bikesafe, a national programme to reduce motorcycle casualties in which police motorcyclists provide advanced rider training to members of the public.
The most common motorcycles used include the BMW R1200RT, Honda ST1100 Pan-European, and Yamaha FJR1300. The Honda ST1300 Pan-European was the most popular bike, but it was withdrawn from service by most forces in 2007, following the death of a Merseyside police motorcyclist in 2005 in an accident caused by an inherent instability in the model.
Police vans, including the Ford Transit or Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, are widely used and some incorporate a cage for accommodation of a prisoner. Although in the United States it is possible to carry a prisoner or suspect in an ordinary police car, many forces do not permit this in the United Kingdom, as most police cars have no barrier between the front and back seats to protect the officers. Each police force will have different policies in relation to prisoner transportation: some will allow compliant prisoners to be transported in response cars (ensuring that one officer sits in the rear with the prisoner, and the prisoner sits behind the passenger seat).
Larger vans are also used by some forces as incident response that may act as a mobile control room at major incidents, and may also carry specialised equipment such as hydraulic door entry and cutting tools. One notable example is the Metropolitan Police's Territorial Support Group who utilise Mercedes Sprinters to transport multiple officers to public order or major incidents.
- Dog units: specially adapted to ensure the welfare of the police dogs, including air conditioning
- Mounted units: horse trailers marked in police livery for the transport of police horses
- Vehicle removal lorry: recovery lorry marked in police livery
- Riot truck: various riot control vehicles specially adapted with protective measures, such as windscreen shields
- Command unit
- Mobile custody unit
- Equipment carrier
- Terrorism Response Vehicles
Area cars (that respond to incidents) and panda cars (that are mainly used for community policing) may carry:
- First aid kit
- Traffic cones
- Fire extinguisher
- Breath analysis system
- Water Life Jacket
- Speed gun
- Spike strip (within Road Policing Units)
- Teddy bear (some RPUs may carry them to console children after an accident)
- Enforcer, entry gaining device
Most response cars, patrol cars, and police motorcycles are fitted with a 'Runlock' system. This allows the vehicle's engine to be left running without the keys being in the ignition. This enables adequate power, without battery drain, to be supplied to the vehicle's equipment at the scene of a major incident. The vehicle can only be driven after re-inserting the keys. If the keys are not re-inserted, the engine will switch off if the handbrake is disengaged or the footbrake is activated; or the sidestand is flipped up in the case of a motorcycle. Runlock is also commonly used when an officer is required to quickly decamp from a vehicle, by enabling Runlock, the cars engine can be left running without the risk of someone stealing the vehicle, because, if the vehicle is driven normally, it will shut down, unless the Runlock system is turned off.
Under the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989, police vehicles may display blue flashing lights to alert other road users to their presence or when the driver feels that the journey needs to be undertaken urgently. Most police vehicles are also fitted with a siren. In addition to blue lights, many traffic and incident response cars are fitted with flashing red lights that are only visible at the rear of the vehicle. These indicate that the vehicle is stopped or moving slowly.
Most police vehicles will have aerial roof markings that assists aircraft in identifying them. These can include the unique force code, vehicle identifying mark, or police division that the vehicle belongs to
Police helicopters are fitted with an array of surveillance, navigation and communication technology to help them with a wide variety of tasks. The specific tasks that any one police helicopter performs will vary from force to force, but common deployments are for missing person searches, vehicle pursuits, the tracking of suspects, and maintaining public order.
Some police helicopters may be shared with the local air ambulance. In this case, a medically trained person may be carried onboard along with medical equipment and the aircraft will respond to medical emergencies as well as those of the police.
The standard crew in a police helicopter consists of a pilot, responsible solely for operating and flying the aircraft; a front seat observer, responsible for operating the helicopter's surveillance systems; and a rear seat observer, responsible for communications using the tetra radio and downlink systems. Although both observers are often police officers, the pilot does not engage in any police activities and is usually not a police officer.
Police forces whose area includes significant waterways often include marine support units. Not only do these units police the waterways, but they also maintain a capability for waterborne rescue, usually in cooperation with HM Coastguard.
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