Police fatal crash unit 'faces burn-out'
A special Northern Ireland police unit set up to investigate fatal road collisions could face burn-out if it has to probe other serious car crashes, it was claimed today.
A slimmed-down collision investigation unit based in Antrim began work in June this year - two years after it was first agreed to, the Criminal Justice Inspectorate added.
The workload based on previous years' figures could mean each officer investigating 12 fatal collisions a year, the report said.
"If this is the case, the capacity for officers to look at serious (near fatal) collisions will be very limited if 'burn-out' is to be avoided," the review said.
The creation of roads investigation teams was put on hold for a year after a business case was rejected. In the interim period there was a rethink on how the units should be resourced.
When a less ambitious business case was submitted in 2009, it coincided with a freeze on recruitment to specialised departments like roads policing. This meant the units would have to be resourced from within the roads policing budget.
Despite these obstacles, a team was established at Steeple base in Antrim. There are five constables and one sergeant. A total of 14 officers are due to be appointed to two groups, with the other based at Mahon Road, Portadown, Co Armagh.
There were 105 fatal collisions resulting in 115 deaths during 2009, an increase on the 2008 figures where 98 fatal collisions resulted in 107 deaths. This was the first time in 10 years that fatalities had increased.
These results were mirrored in the number of seriously injured people, which increased from 990 in 2008 to 1,035 in 2009.
This year's statistics so far show road deaths at their lowest levels in living memory, less than half of the total for the same period in 2009.
The inspectorate has welcomed other progress made by the Police Service of Northern Ireland over the last two years.
Brendan McGuigan, deputy chief inspector of criminal justice, said: "This report acknowledges the effort made to date by the PSNI to take forward these recommendations which aimed to strengthen the way road policing was managed and implemented."
The inspectorate's original inspection report recommended that the PSNI should implement speed thresholds applied in England and Wales. Inspectors welcomed the work that has taken place since June this year when the PSNI began to introduce Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) speed thresholds.
"While inspectors would have wished to see a quicker response to this recommendation, I commend the PSNI for the steps it has taken and the introduction of driver education and speed awareness courses as an option for motorists who are detected committing lower level speeding offences," Mr McGuigan added.
He also welcomed the increase in co-operation and engagement between PSNI officers and colleagues in An Garda Siochana.
Head of roads policing Superintendent Muir Clark welcomed the report's recognition of the efforts of officers to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured.
"While we note the Deputy Chief Inspector's assessment that the initial research into the development of the collision investigation unit was completed according to the action plan timetable, the formal establishment of the unit took longer than anticipated, due to a number of factors, also noted and acknowledged by the Deputy Chief Inspector," he said.
"To date, we have established a collision investigation unit comprised of six specialist officers and are currently recruiting a further eight officers from our current road policing establishment, in order to fully meet the recommendations contained within the original report."