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Northants Interceptors: The shift to proactive policing

Northamptonshire Police are relaunching their fleet of Interceptors as eight months down the line their full potential as criminal hunters has still not yet been realised.

The Friday 15:00 – 02:00 shift – two weeks after the second step of the easing of the lockdown - Northants interceptor team had a busy night with incidents spanning mental health, missing persons and suspicious circumstances.

The interceptors were launched back in September 2020, creating a new fleet of fully-equipped vehicles with a dual role of polciing the roads and targetting travelling criminals while also enhancing response capability to all incidents.

They are part of a wider force strategy to strengthen crime fighting and fits in alongside the £1.3m investment to add around 100 ANPR cameras across the county which is dominated by the M1 motorway. 

But force politics and the hang-ups of the pandemic have got in the way of their capacity to actively target organised crime and those criminals using the county's vast road network. So much so the Interceptors are undergoing an operational 'reset' this week after taking too much of the brunt of response policing.

The cars are equipped with a stinger, hydraulic tools, and a drone and fitted with ANPR readers and a mircrophone speaker that reads out previous intel to the driver. 

Police Oracle went on the Friday shift driven by PC Ian Rudkin, an officer with 13 years' experience.

What did cops do before ANPR? “Gut instinct,” says PC Rudkin.   

“Nine times out of ten a criminal uses a car. You don’t commit a burglary on foot,” he says..  

The ANPR lets officers know a car has driven past with previous intel that the driver had been seen parked up smoking cannabis earlier in the month – not enough grounds to stop them.

“Things have got a lot more difficult around stop searches,” said PC Rudkin. “Years ago I think we were probably too lax with our stop searches and I don't think they were good enough. Whereas now I think we've gone to the other end of the scale.”

PC Rudkin says if an officer stops a vehicle that smells of cannabis, the driver admits they’ve been smoking cannabis and they’ve got intelligence that they’re a regular user of cannabis, they still don’t have grounds to search them.

He said officers are more cautious because of the potential to be scrutinised and criticised for a stop.

“My threshold is a lot higher than five or ten years ago,” he says.

The interceptor was busy throughout the night dealing with overspill from response.

The first call turned out to be a false alarm after a 30-mile blue light run.

There is no monitoring of the number of miles an officer drives in a shift, something that has been raised by the Federation as a safety-risk, along with the dangers of cognitive distractions during single crewing.

During the shift the interceptor did around 100 miles on grade ones, sometimes at speeds of 140mph. The driving can’t be shared even when double crewed as only a handful of the team can drive the Direct Shift Gearbox.

But PC Rudkin doesn’t think it's unsafe because the driving is broken up with jobs in-between. “And it’s about knowing your limits,” he says.

But the nature of the jobs can take their toll. PC Rudkin has been to murder scenes, fatal road traffic accidents, and recently to his first child death. “I’ve been quite lucky in that sense,” he reflects.

He’s struggled in the past with his mental health and speaks openly about it, more, he says, to encourage others to do the same.

“Cops don't talk about mental health,” he said. “I know people in the job that struggle that won't tell anybody or that won't go and get help because they don't want to be seen as weak.”

He said the structure of being out and about most of the time can be isolating at times, especially when the vehicles have been single-crewed because of coronavirus. It's meant they spent less time with their colleagues, talking stuff through, or even just chewing the fat.

All the systems are accessible via laptops and phones in the vehicle and officers only return to the station to use the toilet and the canteen to eat a kebab together. 

Officers got a call that a 14-year-old girl who was deemed high-risk because she’d recently attempted suicide was missing. The interceptor came across her not far from her house, talked things through and took her home, where another interceptor was already there speaking with her mother.

The team dealt with a number of missing persons that night, often with  an element of mental health running through them.

“I don't think we are the right emergency service to deal with it,” said PC Rudkin. “We're a bit like GPs, cops. We know a little bit about a lot of things, but not a lot about one thing.”

He went on to say: “I think there's a huge issue around the mental health side of things, the crisis team, the support in place, but it's what we've got unfortunately. I think a lot of the jobs that we go to do not require a police officer.

“Unfortunately, that's what we do. If your house isn’t on fire, and you're not having a heart attack you call the police. Unfortunately, we're so risk averse we don’t say no.”

Towards the end of the shift a teenage boy who hadn’t taken his ADHD medicine was reported missing by his mother. He was in his back garden in an agitated state when the interceptor arrived, but calmed down after speaking with PC Rudkin and an ambulance arrived shortly after.

PC Rudkin has a sleeve tattoo up both his arms, as did a lot of others on the team. Before officers weren’t even allowed to have tatoos on show but this has been relaxed.

“I find my tattoos help because it’s a talking point,” said PC Rudkin.

“People at jobs I go to say they like them or ask me where I got them done.”

PC Ian Rudkin

Northants officers are dressed in black, something that Chief Constable Nick Adderley reverted to because he deemed the baseball caps and high-vis jackets looked “scruffy”.

In the 24 hours from 2:30pm on Friday 23rd to Saturday 24th the force control room dealt with 116 public safety and welfare calls, 62 abandoned 999 calls, 61 Road incidents, 59 anti-social behaviour, 49 domestic incidents, 41 Covid, 29 violence against persons, 18 missing persons, four harassment, and more.

During the shift the interceptor made no arrests, didn't stop anyone on the road or pursue any ANPR pings. Response calls had them going from one job to the next.

“At the end of the day, we’re still cops,” said PC Rudkin. “We’re going to go help when we can.”

While one shift is never indicative of a policing strategy as a whole, CC Adderley admitted the interceptors hadn’t filled the capability gap the signifcant investment had intended them to.The fleet will have a rebirth this week as they were being used as “fast pandas” which “was never the idea”.

While he acknowledges the pandemic had moved the force to single-crewing and there was demand coming in from elsewhere, CC Adderley says the interceptors lacked the “freedom and latitude that I want them to have.”

He adds: “It effectively has become more of a fast panda than perhaps as an interceptor I wanted it to be, but we will get it back on track.”

He said this was partially down to a recently retired Assistant Chief Constable who “had a different view of what the interceptors should be” and not “pushing it in a way I would have wanted it to be pushed”.

The former ACC apparently believed the demand from response to be too great to have the interceptors as a separate entity.

But CC Adderley championed the work the force was doing around productivity and said Northants was now a "positive outlier nationally." 

“It’s taken this force a bit by surprise, because for over 10 years they’ve kind of just been minding the shop. So suddenly, when you're now saying to them, no, we don't wait for it to come to us - we go to it. It's taken a few people a little while to get their heads around that but we’re relentless in that pursuit and that's what we will continue to do.”

He is also pleased that issues are flagged to him with confidence from the bottom up so he can bring about changes when needed.

“To me leadership is don't pull a lever and just take it for granted that what's happening as you pulled that lever is actually happening," said the chief. "And I think the relationship now that I've got with the force is that they will tell me. And I'll ask them and they'll be honest. They won't tell you what they think you want to hear.”

PC Rudkin agreed: “CC Adderley has the time for you. He will just come and talk to you. He’s the first chief I’ve had who is like that.”

“He’s got the confidence of the cops,” he said. “He’s doing what he said he’d do and more.” 

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