It’s 6:30 in the evening and a distinctive “big cat” leaves Merseyside County’s St. Helens Police station in the north west of England. Like its animal forbear, it’s on the prowl. The quarry is the assorted form of (human) wildlife who use these main roads for crime.
The big cat? A Jaguar 3.0L X-type, a vital component in Merseyside Police’s “Lancsafe” initiative. This focused enforcement program has proved a great success patrolling its own stretch of the urban jungle known locally as the East Lancashire (or East Lancs) Road.
This police Jag is driven by Police Constable (PC) Andy O’Brien, who is partnered by PC Dave Fitzsimon. Like the other four officers on the team, they’ve all been at the “pointy end” of policing, as O’Brien puts it. He has 17 years in the force, while Fitzsimon has four.
When the East Lancashire Road was opened in the mid-1930s, it was hailed as the M6 (major motorway) of the day, as it joined the county’s two biggest cities, Liverpool and Manchester, in this heavily urbanized area. More than 50 years later, East Lancs has been eclipsed by the M62 and other local motorways. Yet East Lancs remains an important route carrying thousands of vehicles a day between both cities.
Where there are so many vehicles, there will be vehicle-related crime. The criminal element use East Lancs as a crime corridor to ply their nefarious trade, hence the launch of the Merseyside Police Lancsafe team in mid-2000.
Its focus is the 21 miles of road from Golbourne on the Greater Manchester east boundary to Knowsley on the Liverpool city west boundary. Its high concentration of 24/7 garages, hotels, and fast-food places like Burger King and McDonalds means that many criminals see this corridor as an easy place to work with drive offs, other thefts, and hotel crime commonplace. Of course, a scant regard for the rules of the road with speeding and bad driving also figure high in police crime stats.
Now, the Lancsafe enforcement project is making a welcome impact. The partnership between the police and local businesses has made the lowlife think differently.
The Merseyside Police thought long and hard about whether the new Jaguar should be liveried (marked) or plain. “Given its vital role in road safety and road policing enforcement, we went for the liveried option, because one priority of Lancsafe is reassurance,” O’Brien explained. “Many garages have only single members of staff on duty later in the evening and the sight of our Jaguar is a very welcome one to them at least.”
The team works from six at night until two in the morning with the Jaguar, one of two cars the Lancsafe team has at its disposal. The other one is a liveried Vauxhall Vectra. The fact that Jaguar is once again expanding its presence in the 999 (emergency) market is most interesting.
So, what does the team think of their latest patrol car? “Jaguar donated an early X-type when it was launched in 2000, so we know quite a little about it thanks to colleagues in the traffic department,” Fitzsimon said. The Jaguar X-type is built in Ford’s state-of-the-art Halewood Plant in Merseyside County.
Like nature’s big cat, this all wheel drive X-type is sure-footed. “Like every other force, we evaluate other high performance cars but the Jaguar has the edge on them all because of its all wheel drive capability,” O’Brien said. Most of the East Lancs is straight as a die but its gradients and the propensity for rain in this part of Lancashire is well known, and something the Jaguar shrugs off.
The Jaguar, call sign DI 15, is rarely driven in anger. But it still has a top speed of around 135 mph. The roof bar and amount of police gear it carries blunts the top end performance only slightly. A slick top 3.0L X-type has a top speed of 146 mph.
O’Brien smiled as he remembers how Lancsafe started with “…a raggedy old Cavalier.” With over 140,000 miles on the odometer, it was a cast off from the traffic department. It might have been past its sell-by date but did a sterling job in establishing the new squad on its inception.
The launch of the latest addition to the fleet was completely different. The visitor centre at the Halewood Plant was the backdrop as the police force top brass met the press. One nice touch was the loan of a restored police Jaguar, which drove up from Sussex. Fans of the modern cat were astonished to see just how the marquee has progressed over the last 40 years since this late-1960s Mark II 3.4L saloon.
One police VIP who missed the press day was chief constable Norman Bettison, but he has not been left out the loop altogether. “The chief is a big believer in the idea of neighbourhood policing and doesn’t go in for squads,” O’Brien said. “We took him on a tour of duty in the Jaguar to show him our ‘neighbourhood,’ the East Lancashire Road.”
The tour of the area worked. The force is now hoping to order a number of additional X-types for similar roles in the four other police districts on The Wirral, Sefton, Liverpool North and Liverpool South to replicate the good work of the Lancsafe squad.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Jaguar police cars were deemed required, if not socially obligated, for British policing. The marque’s reputation was damaged in the 1980s as a forgotten division of British Leyland. Now a division of Ford Motor Company, Jaguar’s star is again on the rise.
It’s good to see that the Merseyside police force hasn’t been slow in recognising the potential of the new X-type as a surefooted, fast, mid-size patrol car ideally suited to a new, high-profile role in its Lancsafe operation, which is now going from strength to strength.
Latest statistics reveal that since the launch of Lancsafe, 1,900 prisoners have been taken, 900 offenders have been brought to book, almost a million pounds (1.8 million US dollars) worth of stolen vehicles have been recovered and a comprehensive database of prolific thieves has been built up, a valuable tool for the squad.
And there has also been another significant spin off. The Jaguar’s high profile presence has helped make the road safer for other road users, too. The road safety spin off is that fatalities have dropped from 17 four years ago to just three last year.
The team has not grown complacent, though. The team took part in Operation Coalition with the Lancashire force in March. The car of the moment is the sporty Audi TT, which can be stolen to order and change hands for as little as 400 pounds ($750) among the underworld before being sold on again to unsuspecting buyers.
Cooperation between forces is much valued to get to grips with the gangs whose current mode of attack is to use hooks and canes to steal car keys from the hall table … or brazenly smash their way into a home, threaten the occupants for the keys and then drive off with stolen cars frequently used in crimes all over the region.
“Let’s face it, who wouldn’t like to come to work and patrol in a Jaguar police car?” Fitzsimon asked rhetorically. Makes a great change from a “raggedy old Cavalier,” that’s for sure.
Roger Blaxall is a former press officer with Greater Manchester Police and the Lancashire Constabulary in the north of England. He is now specializing in writing on police fleet matters and can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.