October 29th, 2009

HATOs

Posted in The Job - General by 200

A regular topic in the policing world is the worth or otherwise of PCSOs & the concept of using what basically are cheaper resources to do what has been historically regarded as police work. Usually the argument goes that PCSOs don’t have sufficient powers or training & aren’t police officers ergo they are a waste of space.

You don’t hear the same discussions about HATOs – Highways Agency Traffic Officers. This was a new concept which came in between 2004 & 2006 & basically civilianised  any of the road traffic responsibilities on the country’s motorways & major trunk roads. Their responsibilities include assisting police,  damage-only accidents, broken down & abandoned vehicles, clearing debris, sorting out road closures, high visibility patrols & educating road users. In doing so they patrol 2025 miles of motorway, have 152 vehicles, mainly 4x4s & deal with 850 incidents a day.

I’m not sure whether there is little criticism if HATOs because there are less of them & their role is less well known or whether they are more highly thought of than PCSOs (generally) or whether the people who do complain about them aren’t as vocal as those who complain about the PCSO role, or something else.

I guess that less police officers come across HATOs because by the nature of their role most of their work is restricted to the motorways & therefore it’s likely to be only the dying breed of traffic officers that interact with a HATO.

From a personal perspective, as a controller, they have been quite successful in their role & have taken a pretty significant amount of work from the police. They deal with just about all non-injury RTCs on our motorway as well as just about all broken down vehicles, including those that break down in the middle of live carriageways. They also take all the reports of debris in the carriageway; it’s amazing how many times a day various items fall off vehicles, from blown lorry tyres, to luggage & ladders off roof racks, to truck gearboxes & everything in between.

In theory this frees up traffic officers to deal with serious accidents & traffic law enforcement/education. But in practice they’ve just made the traffic departments smaller & moved them on to ANPR-related tasking to get arrest figures & vehicle seizure figures up.

I  know when they first came in there were a few traffic officers who felt they were unprofessional or even dangerous – motorways can be really scary – but I think this could have been because the service was so new a few staff had any experience of motorway ‘policing’.

Whatever the experiences a few years ago, I don’t hear many officers complaining about HATOs in anywhere near the numbers who do so about PCSOs.

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