Monitoring and punishing a police officer for speeding is a slippery slope

If you live in Northern Ireland, don’t expect the police to speed to your aid unless there is “an immediate and serious risk to life.” To the delight of criminals—like those involved in a string of ATM thefts—Irish police will get there when they get there… without speeding. So pack your patience.

Many police departments in the U.S. have similar policies when in pursuit of a suspect or driving to a crime scene, but the Police Service of Northern Ireland not only limits its non-emergency speed (50 mph when driving a police-issue Land Rover, for example), each vehicle is equipped with a Locate monitor that alerts the higher-ups if one of their officers bends the rules.

Crazy? In a word, yes. Especially when criminals take advantage of the policy, as it seems these ATM thieves are doing. The Belfast Telegraph reports that the latest theft occurred in the city of Ballymena last week, and even though the suspects were seen by officers, they escaped when the PSNI chose not to exceed the speed limit while in pursuit. You get the feeling that the policy doesn’t sit well with the rank and file.

UK police cars
Ross Clelland

“The public seems to be under the illusion that police can do whatever speed they like, but that simply isn’t the case,” an officer told the Telegraph. “If we go over that limit, it triggers an alert and we have to justify to our bosses why we breached that limit. Only if we can show that we were responding to a call or situation where we believed a life was in danger will we not get into trouble.”

He said the police crew following the stolen ATM likely determined that no lives were at risk, so they chose not to break the speed limit and let the suspects get away. No doubt the Locate monitor is the reason. According to the Telegraph, PSNI drivers have been reprimanded and disciplined based on evidence provided by Locate.

2019 Dodge Durango Pursuit and 2019 Dodge Charger Pursuit
2019 Dodge Durango Pursuit and 2019 Dodge Charger Pursuit FCA

“In the past, you would have had situations like these where officers would have assessed that it was safe to break the speed limit,” the officer said. “Obviously if you know an elderly lady is in her house during a break-in you want to get there as quickly as possible but, with the introduction of Locate, your hands are tied somewhat.”

We’re all for avoiding high-speed chases to protect innocent bystanders, especially after the police have identified the suspect or suspects. But to monitor a police officer’s speed and punish the officer for making a judgment call that could result in the apprehension of a suspect is a lose-lose. It questions an officer’s judgement, adversely affects his or her confidence, and ultimately weakens law enforcement while emboldening criminals.

Don’t agree? Ask the still-at-large ATM thieves in Northern Ireland how they feel about it.

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