Belfast Telegraph

50mph speed limit on police car 'let ATM raid gang flee'

Exclusive Vehicle that chased thieves in Ballymena was restricted to 50mph

The stolen cash machines taken during a raid in Ballymena last week
The stolen cash machines taken during a raid in Ballymena last week
Officers investigate

By Gillian Halliday

The police response to cash machine thefts across Northern Ireland is being hampered by a policy that means officers responding cannot break the speed limit in a pursuit, it has been claimed.

Police officers can only drive faster than the speed limit when they are responding to an emergency situation where they believe there is an immediate and serious risk to life.

This means the patrol car that responded to the theft of an ATM in Ballymena was only allowed to travel at 50mph along the dual carriageway outside the Tesco store where it was stolen in the early hours of last Friday.

The PSNI was criticised after the gang behind the raid escaped, even though they were seen by officers fleeing the scene.

However, one officer said: "The public seems to be under the illusion that police can do whatever speed they like, but that simply isn't the case.

"Not only do we have to adhere to the speed limit like every other driver - unless we are responding to a situation where a person is in danger - but there is also technology in our vehicles that monitors the speed at which we are travelling."

The officer said the use of the technology, known as Locate, is also slowing response times.

He explained: "The fact is that there are speed limits set depending on the vehicle you're driving and there's technology fitted in every car, Land Rover and truck we drive, that constantly monitors our speed.

"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.

"I would imagine that the crew following the stolen ATM didn't reasonably believe any lives were at risk, so it would have meant that they couldn't drive any faster than the speed limit on whatever road they were on."

Locate alerts happen if a response officer drives an armoured saloon car at more than 70mph for longer than 60 seconds.

The limit is reduced to 50mph when they are driving a Land Rover.

PSNI drivers have been reprimanded and disciplined in the past on the basis of evidence provided by the Locate system.

The officer added: "When police are tasked to a scene, they are told whether the call is priority or emergency.

"Priority calls include reports of domestic abuse with no violence or a burglary in progress where the householder is in the property but not under immediate threat.

"In the past, you would have had situations like these where officers would have assessed that it was safe to break the speed limit in order to get to a scene as quickly as possible.

"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.

"You can take the chance and drive faster than the speed limit in say a 40 or 50mph zone without triggering Locate, but if you have a crash they will go over the data and you'll have some difficult questions to answer and could even face criminal charges."

The PSNI couldn't be contacted for comment at time of publication.

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