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Professional standards, public perception and priorities

By Jason Clauson

I grew up in Poplar in the 1960s, but unlike many Londoners I had no contact with or knew any Black Cab Drivers, with none as family friends or acquaintances. I joined the Royal Navy straight from school and returned home in the mid 80s, married and just about to join the Met Police, just in time for the Tottenham Riots. I still at that time had little or no knowledge of the famed Black Cab driver. I slowly pieced together info about the great task of completing the Knowledge from the odd meeting with a cabbie or reading about it in articles. It began my interest and sowed the seed, albeit a slow grower, of one day wanting to try my hand at the hardest test in the world. 

I served 30 years in the Met ending up for the last 10 years as a Traffic Officer, a specialist role centred around Traffic Enforcement and dealing with serious and fatal collisions. I always had a leaning to car related & road safety work even as a Borough PC, especially after having a 7 year old girl die in my arms in 1986 following a collision that I witnessed involving a Drink Driver.

I was also a Family Liaison Officer {FLO} a voluntary role looking after families of bereaved people. I was a qualified Vehicle Examiner, an Advanced Driver and a Police Motorcyclist and hold 8 City & Guilds qualifications relating to vehicles {HGVs Cars & Bikes} & collision investigation. Plus one for Sign Language. In 2011 I began my Knowledge journey, a few hiccups followed but after 3 years 8 months 8 days I finally earned my Green Badge in May 2015 and very proud of it I am. Joining an exclusive club of men and women from all walks of life and family backgrounds regardless of the old misconception that all cabbies are 'east end cockney geezers'. During my occasional meetings on duty with cabbies in a professional sense I was always quick to remind them about how hard it was for them to get that Green Badge, so why risk it for the sake of whatever the reason for stopping them, speeding, red light etc. I only reported a few in my time for the worst offences & the majority were sent away with a flea in their ear and nothing more, which I hope they appreciated. Although some offences were too serious to ignore, 72mph in Tottenham High Rd springs to mind! As a newly qualified cabbie and now a retired Copper instead of looking for 'wronguns' I was looking for fares, but old habits die hard and it wasn't long before I noticed a lack of enforcement by my ex-colleagues and in particular the PHV (minicab) issues we see daily. In my service I reported / ticketed many PHVs for a whole multitude of offences {seizing a fair few vehicles in the process} and now I am outside of the Metropolitan Police it seemed nothing was being done. I wrote to the head of Traffic and eventually was passed on to the acting head of the Cab Enforcement unit at Kings Cross, a small specialist unit and although I felt fobbed off by the response to some things I did feel it was a positive encounter and was able to pass on my concerns and thoughts. Now 2 years & 4 months on, I am more than aware of the extremes of our PHV 'friends' and never cease to be dumbfounded and increasingly angered by what I see and read about. 

I shall throw some facts into the mix, there are more Black Cab drivers in London than there are Uniformed Constables in the Met. On an average day I once read in an article there are between 10,000 and 12,000 Black Cabs on the road in London. There are only between 8,000 and 10,000 uniformed PCs in public meeting roles in the Met spread over shifts throughout the 24 hour day. It is worth noting that they are spread over the 32 Boroughs, so even less PCs within the Knowledge area. When I joined the Met in the 80s there were well over 400 Traffic PCs in the Met, when I joined the Traffic Department in 2004 there were about 340, today the number is about 260. That's specialist trained Traffic Enforcement PCs. The Traffic dept merged with the TfL funded Roads Policing unit (made up of PCs who were in the main forced to go there along with PCSOs) back in 2014/15 and is now the biggest unit in the Met, but has a reduced skills base due to the lowering of the number of specialist PCs available. So already you should be concerned about the lack of PCs out and about to deal with Traffic related issues. Now ANY PC can deal with the majority of traffic related offences, calling down a Trafpol when more specialist knowledge is needed. Indeed when I joined the Force you cut your Probationer teeth on all things traffic law related ... it's a great way to learn how to deal with the public, and I frequently called on the Traffic dept for help. But as time went on the outlook changed and in the 90s onwards PCs on Borough were actively discouraged from any traffic stops & certainly prosecutions, and as numbers of PCs reduced and workload increased many Borough based PCs simply don't have the interest or knowledge to get stuck in on car related offences. They are also in the main too busy with a multitude of other things. This brings me neatly to Priorities. As a Cabbie our priorities are earning a living, getting the public from A to B safely & efficiently keeping our Ranks free and useable etc. None of that is sadly a PCs concern unless they are one of the very few PCs working in the Met's Cab Enforcement Unit. Which isn't a very big team. A Borough PCs priorities are manifold, responding to calls within strict timed guidelines being the main one, Anti Social Behaviour, Domestic Violence, Crime Figures, Gang Crime, drug use, everything except the issues that affect our trade. Then they have completing all reports before the end of the shift, because contrary to popular belief unless you are in a very special squad there is a general clampdown on any overtime and that has been the case for many years now, decades even. Anti Terror Branch loads of O/T. Diplomatic branch loads of O/T. Majority of PCs .. no way .. every penny is pinched, do you need to be here? Can you do it on your own? Never ending pressure some days. The biggest priority of all? Getting home safely at the end of their shift. We sadly have a rubbish regulator, who fails us at every turn, we have an overworked & stretched small Police Cab Enforcement unit that barely scratches the surface of the issues facing us. Many of the offences reported to TfL on Twitter etc cannot be dealt with by TfL. It has to be witnessed by a PC or the cabbie that is reporting it to TfL has to report it to the Police personally making the allegation in writing, however without an independent witness and with courts overrun with cases its unlikely to go anywhere. I am not sticking up for TfL far from it, they are a disgrace but their powers are limited. But what they CAN do they don't do well enough. Public Perception? What do you think when you see a couple of Coppers in a marked car who seem to ignore a bit of poor driving or miss the passing driver on the phone or someone with a child loose in their car instead of in a seat belt, or a PHV stopped on a Taxi Rank? Lazy, not bothered? Possibly! But more likely it's because they both have a few crime reports to type up before they go home, or their Sergeant is hassling them on the radio for a result of the last call they dealt with, or they have been on a crime scene for the last 6 hours and want something to eat and drink. A domestic incident involving kids. Or The PC in the back has been on hospital guard for his entire 10 hour shift and just wants to go back to the Nick & go home. How about they have been dealing with a mentally ill person for the last couple of hours or a missing child reported for the third time this week by their foster parents. Truth is you don't know, but it's a bit unfair to prejudge. Don't get me wrong if something serious is kicking off the vast majority will get involved, but a PHV being a prat? If a PC does wrong or fails in his duty in some way by all means complain, as I would do. But don't get our priorities confused with other peoples and judge them unfairly. I expect them to be professional, as I was, but they can't be doing everything we as the public expect sometimes for the reasons above and many more besides. As an example some years ago we were instructed as we left our Traffic Garage in Chadwell Heath to ignore offences on Redbridge Borough and proceed to our posted Boroughs and enforce / patrol there. This was because it was deemed we were issuing too many Fixed Penalties on Redbridge and not enough elsewhere. Common sense states as we all left from the same place we would all see offences committed there first. However once told not to we had to ignore many bread and butter offences. So if you had seen that, what would your perception had been? Lazy, not bothered? Who knows? 

In the past few weeks I have seen myself the following offences in central London, wait for the surprise at the end though ... 

Running a red light .. I don't mean 'ooh that was a bit tight mate' I mean blatant driving thru a red light. 3 Penalty Points on your Licence. Stopping on Zig Zags to set down a passenger. Stopping on Zig Zags to pick up a passenger. Waiting on Zig Zags. All carry 3 Penalty Points Speeding ... everyone exceeds the speed limit .. those that do it excessively STAND OUT. 3 to 6 Penalty Points or if WDC .. 3 to 9 Points. Overtaking on narrow roads. WDC. Overtaking on the Approach to a Pedestrian Crossing .. 3 Penalty Points. Tailgating ... Without Due Care {WDC} .. 3 to 9 Penalty Points. Failing to Comply with a Green Direction Arrow .. If the green light is an arrow and you don't follow it ... 3 Penalty Points. Left Turn where prohibited. Right Turn where prohibited. Failing to comply with a direction arrow {white arrow in blue circle}. Parking on the offside at night with headlights on, it's dangerous, it blinds oncoming drivers & it's always been an offence. If you cross the centre line .. side lights only. Misuse of Fog Lights Using a Mobile Phone Whilst Driving, either in the hand or up to the ear. Dangerous Condition .. by virtue of a badly positioned phone or SatNav or both .. 3 Penalty Points Drivers view obscured .. as above but not as bad, also includes dirty windows (usually the inside of the screen) Causing an obstruction when picking up .. not parking straight to do so. The public shouldn't dictate where anyone stops if it's not safe or legal don't do it. Stopping on a corner to pick up/drop off Stopping in the middle of a junction to pick up/drop off Reversing out of a One Way Street. Stopping intentionally in the cycle box, it's a red light offence, 3 Points on your licence, not if you were caught in one as the lights changed, I mean deliberately driving up to the first stop line and running over it into the box ... that's the offence complete at that point. Illegal Number Plates. Defective lights .. various ones all around the vehicle. Using a wired headset in a vehicle .. they are not legal in a vehicle FACT Wearing flip flops when driving, they are not safe, Not in proper control of your vehicle, I once attended a fatal collision involving a child, the driver lost control wearing flip flops. Also prosecuted other drivers for wearing them having observed poor control. Here is the surprise ... all the above listed offences that I have recently witnessed have been committed by Black Cab drivers. 

These are not one offs either. I am dismayed and saddened by what I have seen and continue to see. No one expects you to drive round as if you are taking a test every day, that's not the point. But have a level of professionalism that shines is! It's not just the Knowledge and being the best Taxi drivers in the world by reputation it's also by actions and deeds. This is where that Public Perception comes in because within those many interactions on social media where we as trade are highlighting the short comings of the vast majority of PHV drivers running around like buffoons driving into each-other, lampposts and buses, and broadcasting the fact we are a professional service there is often a few dissenting voices, a pedestrian, cyclist, taxi passenger will hit back with a comment about our behaviour. Why? Because they see what I sometimes see. We as trade let ourselves down, by the behaviour I listed above, by dirty cabs and scruffy drivers, and poor behaviour on the road, including the very embarrassing verbal tirades you occasionally hear, with a passenger on board for god's sake .. it's disgraceful! Everyone remembers a rude Cabbie as much as a rude Copper, but remember there are more cabbies than Coppers in London. Public Perception! The real reason there is so much lawlessness on the roads is the lack of proper policing, because of the reasons highlighted above and if that should change then sadly a few of our own will fall on the wrong side of that. If a proper central London Traffic unit was introduced they would find themselves very busy and not just with our PHV friends. So that Public Perception can be altered by what they see, and it's up to us as individuals to set standards we can be proud of, and not let the side down, especially when trying to highlight the misdemeanours and stupidity of the PHV trade. Then the public's focus would be on the right people For example every time I turn into Cadogan Place from Sloane Street & the Rank at the Jumeirah Tower is full there is always a Cab sat on the zig zags. Seriously? How much will you moan when you get 3 Points for being an idiot. It's like a Chippy using his best Chisel to hammer a nail in. Your licence & your badge are your best chisel, respect it. What do you think the public think of that when they see it? As a Sailor I was very proud to serve my Queen & Country, proud of my service in the Falklands & Northern Ireland. As a Copper I was proud to serve the public, proud of my career, my vocation. The same goes for my Green Badge I am immensely proud to hold the Green Badge. I worked very hard to get it the same as all of my fellow Cabbies, and I have no intention of losing it nor disgracing its heritage. Sadly we have all seen Cab drivers with little or no pride in what they do, nor do they care about the harm their behaviour does to the trade. I know we have an immense amount of problems with TfL, corruption, illegal competition and a crime ridden plague of PHV drivers many of whom are Uber drivers ruining the reputation of our great city, but that doesn't mean we have to forget how to be the best & behave the best in the world at what we do. Let's shift ALL the focus on the right things, our professionalism, and the other mobs amateur status & appalling behaviour. We are the Gold Standard only if we act like it. Professional Standards, Public Perception, Priorities and a whole lot of Pride. Jason Clauson 

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