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Neighbourhood watchers in Reading get speedguns

Big society goes Big Brother – with speed-monitoring neighbours

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Police in Reading are today encouraging residents to join the Big Society and zap speeding neighbours with personal issue speed detection kit. The speedster who falls afoul of the personal speedguns gets two written warnings from neighbourhood police. Police may then take action on the third infraction.

SPEEDNAUGHTY

Be good or we'll zap
you with laser guns...

According to reports in GetReading, the controversial scheme, known as SpeedWatch, was trialled last year in Tilehurst East in co-ordination with the local neighbourhood action group (NAG).

Volunteers work closely with local police to identify motorists who are breaking the speed limit.

There is then a slow process of escalation, as the registered owner of any such vehicle receives a first and then a second communication from the neighbourhood police team, before police action follows in response to a third offence.

The project is co-ordinated by Thames Valley Police and Reading Borough Council. Those wishing to support the scheme need to get together with at least three other residents, and register their interest with Reading Borough Council. They will then receive their very own speed detection equipment.

David Webber, chairman of the Tilehurst East NAG, said: "SpeedWatch has empowered Tilehurst residents to help in the campaign against speeding, by delivering educational letters to over 150 motorists and providing a visible reminder to all motorists."

He added: "The most impressive aspect was the number of motorists who supported the campaign by stopping and thanking those taking part in the initiative."

Such schemes are neither new nor without controversy. Many police forces operate a neighbourhood speed-monitoring programme, with Avon and Somerset a good example of a model that has been tried and tested over the years. Their own scheme, titled Speed Watch, has been running since 2001, and won a police Problem Solving Award in 2010. The scheme, which has recently clocked its millionth speeding motorist, includes 37 Community Speed Watch teams throughout the district supported by 250 volunteers.

And if you happen to live in Queen Camel, perhaps this could be a job for you, as their volunteer in that area is stepping down this month: standard issue equipment is likely to include a choice of laser or radar guns – and your very own SID (speed indication display) for deployment locally.

Elsewhere, however, there is evidence that the scheme is not quite so welcome. A SpeedWatch site from Cambridge hints rather bitterly at local controversy, stating: "The purpose of this website is to explain the facts, rather than myths, about SpeedWatch, that is [SIC] operating in the Ramsey area, Cambridgeshire."

The site's owner continues: "SpeedWatch is being run out across England, but, counties seem to be operating differently. Complaints about schemes operated elsewhere may be valid but are not an issue for those in Cambridgeshire, which are run differently.

"In fact, SpeedWatch is a worldwide initiative!"

There are definitely differences from county to county: Leicestershire's speedwatch scheme, for instance relies far more heavily on Community Support Officers.

Although proponents of these schemes believe they help lower speed on roads where they operate, they mostly work by reminding drivers that they are under observation. Anyone clocked by a neighbourhood volunteer is in line for a letter and eventually a stern ticking off by the police. But not points – unless they happen to live in Avon and Somerset.

There, police officers occasionally accompany volunteers on their rounds, and if you are clocked speeding when a police officer is present, then points or prosecution could follow.

In the long run, this looks like an interesting experiment in extending the "Big Society" into Big Brother territory.

Whether it will successfully reduce speed without creating lifetime village feuds remains to be seen. ®

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