AA has long described itself as the “fourth emergency service” but this has now arguably become a reality.
It has been reported that twenty AA workers had been given powers usually only permitted to be used by police officers whilst they were involved in controlling traffic for the Brighton Marathon in April. A similar arrangement was put in place in 2011 for the golf Open Championship in Lytham by the Lancashire Constabulary with the possibility of rolling out similar initiatives nationwide in the future.
These workers, after completing training and accreditation, had been given the authority to stop driver’s and take their names and addresses for the issue of penalties for committing traffic offences, including the use of a mobile phone whilst driving or failing to wear a seatbelt.
The employees from the AA do not have the power to make arrests but refusal by drivers to give up their details would constitute an offence and could mean subsequent detention by the police. The majority of the staff in question are also in fact former police officers that have joined the AA upon leaving the service.
A spokesman from Sussex police has said
The powers that the AA traffic control officers have are just two out of thirty eight available.
He confirms that they are not treated as police officers or PCSOs but are available to support the police in an emergency situation. He goes on to say that
managing traffic flow and keeping the public safe is very much a team effort with all the various people involved working together.
An AA spokesman has confirmed that the company would be working more closely with the police and said that the accredited training course is not simply to do with police powers but “incorporates a range of subjects including traffic related legislation, customer service, risk assessment and first aid training”.
There are concerns by some that this is a response by local constabularies designed to “paper over the cracks” left by the extensive reductions to police officer numbers due to government cuts. However it has been argued that the positive aspect of this is that conferring limited powers to AA workers and other private companies frees up the police to deal with more important tasks than traffic management.
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