A security guard checks visitors as they make their way upstairs and it is instantly obvious that this is no ordinary fleet operation.
The after-effects of the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001 are still evident and helping to combat the threat of terrorism is a core part of the role the Metropolitan Police fleet.
Accounting for 25% of the UK’s police force, the force operates almost 6,000 vehicles in 32 London boroughs on a round-the-clock basis.
The fleet: Special fleet has varied needs
THE Met fleet is not an average fleet. Alongside the standard response vehicles, which are the normal police cars seen on the street, it has dog vans, motorbikes, scooters, commercial vehicles, armed response vehicles and high-speed response boats used on the River Thames.
As for the fleet drivers, there are two types of police staff, with police officers having a warrant to arrest, while civilian drivers do not.
The fleet’s main aim is ‘to support London in its bid to become safer’ and to enable this the transport division is split into four services:
The group’s director of transport services, Stuart Middleton, has been in charge of the fleet for the past two years.
He said: ‘On average in any borough, we have 45 vehicles, 10 to 12 instant response units, three to four station vans, three to four area cars and the remainder are unmarked vehicles.’
The response vehicles are mainly Vauxhall Astras but the fleet also includes marques such as BMW, Ford and Mercedes-Benz. There are also unmarked police cars which can be any make or model.
The fleet uses the BMW 5-series as an area pursuit vehicle or as a larger general response vehicle. The instant response fleet operates on average on a three year/80,000-mile cycle.
Station vans with prisoner compartments in the back are used to transport passengers and traffic vehicles are used for patrolling faster roads.
Middleton said: ‘We are phasing out the small models, commonly called Panda cars and moving to the Vauxhall Astra as it is bigger. We are doing this as we now have lots of equipment to get in the car.’
The fleet contains 594 motorcycles, including a range of scooters and mopeds, which are used in partnership with Transport for London (TfL).
The traffic patrol department uses larger bikes and Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCO) run small vans.
Then there is the Marine Support Unit (MSU), which provides a 24-hour patrol of the River Thames.
The MSU runs a fleet of 14 boats and rigid inflatables, which operate anywhere on the River Thames, the estuary and at sea. The MSU’s role is now particularly focused on counter-terrorism.
An MSU spokesman said: ‘Counter-terrorism now accounts for 90% of tasked MSU activity. MSU provides two boats 24 hours, seven days a week, which have been tasked specifically with high-visibility patrols to the most vulnerable areas.’
If the Met requires additional vehicles, such as for policing large demonstrations in the capital, it turns to daily rental firms.
When choosing vehicles, Middleton is keen to operate the most cost-effective fleet.
He explained: ‘We take into account the views of police officers when choosing vehicles, but the most important aspect is wholelife costs. We select on this basis and because we are spending public money, we need a transparent audit showing where the money goes.’
The size and performance of vehicles is assessed before purchasing, followed by an individual model appraisal.
Middleton said: ‘Cars are tested individually for performance and handling. Braking is one of the main parts of the test.
‘We have a demanding brake test, accelerating up to 50mph and then back to zero, we do this 50 times to replicate the demanding pattern of response driving. This shows any overheating and brake problems.’
At the end of their cycle, the decals on the response vehicles are removed, the vehicles are cleaned and then sent to auction.
Alongside higher-than- normal levels of wear and tear, the vehicles tend to have high mileages and usually have holes drilled inside the cabin to hold electrical items such as radios. But this doesn’t cause a problem at auction time, according to Middleton.
He said: ‘There are usually a lot of bidders for the vehicles and we don’t have a problem selling cars. The more expensive cars, such as the BMWs, have better residual values so we make more of an effort to prepare them before remarketing. We experimented doing this with the Astras, but it didn’t make much difference to the residual values, so we now put less effort into the preparation of them.’
Although the transport department manages the fleet, it does outsource some of the work.
Middleton explained: ‘We have three major outsourced contracts. Venson maintains 3,500 of our vehicles, MacNeillie equips the vehicles and Vanguard provides the vehicle hire.’
Fuel: Green concerns mean greater use of diesel
MIDDLETON intends to use a larger proportion of diesel vehicles in the fleet. It currently operates on a 50/50 diesel and petrol ratio, but the fleet is starting to move more towards heavy oil.
He said: ‘We use mainly diesel for environmental reasons.
‘It is better for CO2 emissions and better for economy but we do need to make a long-term decision.
‘We want the cleanest vehicles and the environmental impact is important but we also need to look at performance and reliability.’
The force has a contract with BP and all drivers use fuel cards.
However, some vehicles are refuelled at bulk fuel sites which provide a strategic reserve for the emergency services, in the event of a fuel strike or emergency situation.
Middleton hasn’t dismissed the idea of using more alternative fuel vehicles in a bid to become greener. The fleet currently operates a range of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vehicles and electric models.
He said: ‘We have some LPG vehicles, 20 Vauxhall Astras and the dispatch vans are LPG models. We have also looked at electric vehicles. We operate three at the moment but the range is restricted so it is not something we will do much more with.’ The Met is also keen to introduce fuel cell and hydrogen vehicles, but Middleton believes that this is still a long way off.
The future: Changing times mean new challenges ahead
THE way the Metropolitan Police fleet operates is constantly changing. One of the more noticable changes Middleton has encountered is the number of modifications made to vehicles before they arrive at the force.
He said: ‘The main change is that we now use unmodified vehicles. We try to stick with the models the manufacturers provide. In the past we had different brakes installed and the vehicles were modified. But because of technical advances, vehicles now perform better and are safer so require fewer changes.’
The fleet is constantly evolving and Middleton is continually aiming for a more efficient operation.
He wants to completely reassess the way the non-equipped part of the fleet (vehicles that basically have additional equipment installed) is purchased and managed in a bid to improve wholelife costs.
He added: ‘On the non-equipped fleet, we buy, lease and hire, but we think we can do better in this area so are looking for a supplier who can help. This is to do with wholelife costs, as we want to get better value.’
The force is also running a tender to reselect its major contractors from April 2006. All its outsourcing is being re-selected because the current contracts are about to run out.
Technology advances will also feature highly as part of the Met’s future remit. In July next year it is introducing a new information systemwhich will be used to complete finance tasks such as reports and budgets. Middleton said: ‘The new system, called SAP, has more functions. We are designing and building this to be launched July 2005. A new airwave radio system will also be introduced next year. We are creating a centralised control centre under a project called C3i. This will mean a new tracking system, radio system and mobile data equipment. C3i tracking will be introduced at the end of the year, but it will take two years to roll out.’
Using the latest technology is vital to ensure that the Metropolitan Police fleet continues with its pledge to make London a safer place.
It’s a task that will see the number of police officers increase by 3,000 over the next year. to police the capital’s population of seven million people.
Risk management: Hazards are great so Met opts for extra risk management add-ons
DUE to the nature of the fleet, traditional risk management policies have to be improved upon.
The starting point is to fit each police vehicle with a ‘black box’ device to record movements in the moments before an accident.
The unit is fitted during the conversion process by aftermarket specialist MacNeillie, so that the 45 seconds before any incident are available for the investigators to study. Middleton said: ‘The black box shows the vehicle’s movements, such as when it accelerated or decelerated. It acts as a deterrent to police officers to ensure they drive according to the rules.’
It also helps show if the police were not at fault.
In 2001, the force reported it had dramatically cut accidents involving its vehicles by 25% following a safety drive, including the fitting of the data recorders.
Middleton said: ‘We have taken the management of occupational road risk to heart. Police officers have to complete thorough comprehensive training.’
There are three levels of driver – basic, response and advanced.
Middleton explained: ‘Basic drivers can only drive cars in normal circumstances. However, response drivers can drive to an incident as quickly as possible. They can exceed the speed limit, drive on the wrong side of the road and treat traffic lights as give way signs but they are not allowed to pursue a vehicle. Only advanced drivers are able to do that.’
Drivers have to complete a three-week training course to become a response driver, then another three-week course to become an advanced driver. Before becoming advanced drivers, they have to have a large amount of time as a response driver under their belts.
One of the main difficulties the Met police faces is that most vehicles are pool cars and have multiple users.
This has a direct effect on the wear and tear of vehicles. The instant response vehicles have double the number of brake services compared to ordinary cars and suffer from increased seat wear because the officers’ belts wear the seats as they get in and out of vehicles.
He added: ‘Front suspension mounts are also a problem because of the type of driving. The number of collisions within the response fleet is quite high as officers often have to drive at high speeds. There has been criticism in the press about police involved in accidents but we have put a lot of effort into driver training.’