On-duty PSNI officer caught speeding at 151mph - concern at lack of formal sanction
An on-duty PSNI officer recorded speeding at 151mph was not formally disciplined even though the speed was deemed unwarranted.
The officer is among 138 who were reported internally for excessive speed since 2015 and handed 'risk points' - a warning which falls short of a formal misconduct sanction.
All were investigated in-house after their speeding was deemed inappropriate for the incidents they were responding to.
The 151mph speed recorded by the PSNI officer is one of the fastest ever detected on Northern Ireland roads.
Four other officers were detected at speeds between 129mph and 142mph - none faced formal misconduct proceedings.
The details were obtained by the Belfast Telegraph after a Freedom of Information request.
Policing Board member Dolores Kelly voiced concern, claiming PSNI officers need to be more aware of their responsibility when behind the wheel.
The PSNI said that since 2014 nine officers have been formally disciplined in relation to speeding.
A total of 138 officers were also handed risk points from 2015 to 2019 so far.
According to the PSNI, risk points are "not a formal misconduct outcome" but act as a warning mechanism for the officer and management.
They are "a means of flagging management concerns regarding a specific driving incident and monitoring that officer's use of police vehicles" which remain in place for 12 months from issue.
Of those handed risk points, five were suspended from driving on duty for at least a month, as well ordered to do a re-test to ensure they could return to their normal driving duties.
In addition 26 officers were ordered to engage with the PSNI's Training and Driver Training Unit (TDTU) over the same period with a further 11 referred to the unit and ordered to undertake re-tests.
Two years ago it emerged the PSNI was referring its officers for prosecution for speeding at work and, in at least two cases, officers were acquitted and the charges dismissed. Officers' speeds are monitored and tracked by the PSNI's Locate system, which is in operation on a daily basis. Last autumn it was revealed the technology would be extended to include armoured vehicles.
If an officer is required to drive above the limit and breaches what the PSNI deems to be a 'trigger point', the matter is referred to an internal panel.
In each instance it considers "if the speed was justified, proportionate and necessary for a lawful policing purpose".
Addressing the five highest speeds by officers responding to 'live' incidents - 151mph, 142mph, 137mph, 135mph and 129mph - the panel concluded the speeds were unwarranted.
But it did not deem any of the speed breaches to require formal disciplinary sanctions. The number of officers issued with risk points is on the rise. In 2015 there were 34 incidents, followed by 24 in 2016, 18 in 2017 and 33 last year.
So far this year, 29 officers have been issued with the points.
Mrs Kelly, an SDLP MLA, praised the PSNI for its "sophisticated accountability process", but called for more scrutiny.
"It's useful for people to know that even when speed limits are breached in the course of a vehicle or suspect chase, there's a robust review mechanism and consequences when speed may not have been justified," she said.
"It is concerning, however, that we're seeing a rise in the number of officers issued with risk points - and the levels of speed, upwards of 140mph, involved.
"If this year's trend continues, there'll be a need to take action to ensure all PSNI drivers are aware of their responsibility to use speed only when needed."
PSNI Chief Superintendent Sam Donaldson said: "Of those five instances where top speeds have been recorded and risk points issued, the Locate panels considered in detail the nature and circumstances of each case.
"In each of the five instances whilst the officers were responding to live incidents, the panels did not consider the use of speed was commensurate with the nature of the incident.
"In aid of managing occupational road risk each of those officers were issued with risk points, but the Locate panels did not consider any of those instances warranted formal disciplinary sanctions.
"PSNI policy and training is in place to protect both the officer and the public and is tailored to the roles those officers perform.
"Guidance issued to officers is to ensure vehicles are driven within their capability, taking into account their training, the vehicle type and the relevant circumstances," he added.
"It is recognised that police officers will, on occasion, have a lawful and legitimate requirement to breach prevailing speed limits in the execution of their lawful duties."
The PSNI's use of Locate technology has come under scrutiny in recent months after it was reported that officers fear disciplinary action if their speeding decisions are called into question.
The claim - dismissed by Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd - emerged during a spate of ATM thefts when the PSNI came under public pressure to apprehend the criminal gangs by patrol vehicle pursuits.
High-performance models in the fleet
One of the PSNI’s staff-issued vehicles capable of clocking up eye-watering speeds of over 150mph is a luxury Audi estate model, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
With a three-litre engine, the high-performance A6 Quattro Avant can go from zero to 60mph in 6.3 seconds, and achieve a top speed of 151mph.
Police forces throughout the UK also deploy the same Audi model in response to emergency calls and incidents.
Other high-performance brands used by UK police fleets include the Jaguar XF and BMX X5. Prices for a new A6 Quattro Avant start at around £45,000 according to the German car-maker’s website.