Police work ‘more difficult’ with street lights off says commissioner

Police patrol.

Police patrol.

Police officers in Essex are unable to carry out their work as effectively with the street lights turned off.

Essex Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston.
Picture supplied by the PCC office.

Essex Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston. Picture supplied by the PCC office. - Credit: Archant

That appeared to be the message from Essex Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston as he responded to questions from residents during a recent web chat.

Currently in Essex street lights run by County Hall are switched off between midnight and 5am except in town centres and at busy road junctions in a bid to cut carbon emissions and authority energy bills.

It was announced this week that the lights will now be kept on for an extra hour six days a week, going off at 1am Tuesday-Sunday.

In a web chat with the Basildon Echo, asked if the policy had led to a rise in crime Mr Alston said an increase could not be confirmed and anti-social behaviour had fallen – which has been a central argument from Essex County Council (ECC) supporting the switch-off.

Street light.

Street light. - Credit: Archant © 2010

However Mr Alston did suggest the darkness hampered police activity in the early hours.

He said: “Essex Police is of course equipped to respond to emergencies in all circumstances but yes, when the lights are on it must be easier for them.

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“Across most of the county, in all of our rural areas, the lights are off. This is really an issue about the areas around our town centres.

“Officers have told me it can be more difficult with the lights off but they will do what they are required to do to the best of their ability.”

Later expanding on his comments Mr Alston added: “It is obviously the case that police and other emergency services find it easier to operate in well-lit areas. However only a small proportion of the area of Essex has lighting. All the emergency services are well able to operate in unlit areas.”

The commissioner also raised concerns about the effect the switch-off could be having on the county’s roads during the web chat.

Mr Alston said: “I think there is a more tricky question about part-night lighting and road safety which has worried me since the beginning of 2013.

“There is growing evidence that part-night lighting can be a factor in some road accidents especially where we have speed limits of 40mph or above on roads close to nightspots where there may be pedestrians around in the early hours.”

He later added that around the country some coroners had raised concerns about part-night lighting, and there were two fatal crashes in Essex in which lighting could be a factor.

As a result Mr Alston has asked the Chief Constable and district commanders to identify roads where this may apply and ask for them to be lit.

The emergency services are able to request street lights are switched back on in the event of a major incident, such as a flood warning or in the wake of a murder.

ECC has also said it would reconsider part-night lighting if there was clear evidence it was linked to an increase in crime in a particular area.

Responding to Mr Alston’s comments Rodney Bass, cabinet member for highways and transportation at ECC, said: “Having listened carefully to people’s views on part-night lighting, we responded this week by fine-tuning the policy so that the street lights will remain on for an extra hour six days a week.

“We will continue to work closely with Essex Police on all aspects of the part-night lighting scheme.”

A number of councils, including Colchester, Tendring and Harlow, have asked ECC to begin negotiations to allow them to pay to keep the lights on in their area.

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