Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening today (11:10am Monday May 14) launched a pioneering £1.2m command centre dedicated to tackling crime and anti-social behaviour on the West Midlands transport network.
The Safer Travel Command Centre in Birmingham is the first in the UK to have officers from a regional police force and British Transport Police permanently based together.
Equipped with the latest digital technology, staff will use 50 high definition screens to monitor images beamed live from more than 800 CCTV cameras covering the region’s bus, rail and tram network.
The Command Centre will also serve as a headquarters for up to 79 officers and staff from the Safer Travel Partnership, a dedicated task force that has helped cut offences on the network by more than 65 per cent over the last five years.
The Partnership, which includes West Midlands Police, transport authority Centro, bus operator National Express and more recently British Transport Police, stages hundreds of operations each year to deter and combat crime and anti-social behaviour on the transport network.
Ms Greening said: “Crime on buses and trains is already falling but state of the art facilities like this will help to further increase safety on our public transport system.
“The excellent work being done here in the West Midlands shows what can be achieved when operators and the police work together and I congratulate all those involved in getting this new command centre up and running.”
The opening follows the release of last year’s (April 1, 2011 – March 31, 2012) crime figures which show a 12 per cent reduction ( 345 fewer offences) on the bus network, a 12 per cent fall (341 fewer offences) on rail and a four per cent drop (eight fewer offences) on Midland Metro trams.
Centro’s Vice Chairman, Cllr Jon Hunt, said: “The Safer Travel Partnership has been very successful and it’s important to realise that crime on the network is now at a very low level.
“Despite this success we know that anti-social behaviour remains an issue for some people and this new Command Centre will help us tackle that.
“It will allow for greater co-ordination and understanding between the two forces and a more efficient use of resources but most importantly it will help provide an even better policing response to passengers.”
The shared Command Centre, which will save the Partnership more than £400,000 a year, also features briefing rooms and other facilities from which operations can be planned and deployed.
These involve a range of tactics including high visibility and covert police patrols, special transmitters which "tap" into live bus CCTV systems, the deployment of drugs sniffer dogs and surveillance at crime hot spots.
Although crime on the network is at its lowest level for more than five years, and, excluding vandalism there is now just one offence in every 147,000 bus rides, recent passenger surveys have found that nuisance behaviour such as playing loud music and smoking are key irritants that can also lead to an unfounded fear of crime.
To help tackle the issue, the new Command Centre will be linked to the innovative See Something Say Something scheme where passengers can discreetly send details of anti-social behaviour via text message to 83010.
The information is then used by the Safer Travel police team to pinpoint any anti-social behaviour hotspots and take appropriate action.
West Midlands Chief Constable, Chris Sims, said: “Bus, train and tram passengers should be free to use public transport confident that they will enjoy a safe, pleasant journey.
"Through the Safer Travel Partnership we are committed to cutting crime and anti-social behaviour on the transport network and the partnership has made a real difference since it was formed six years ago. Last year, in-particular, there were almost 700 fewer offences on the network.
“Having all partners working together in this new Command Centre will help galvanise our efforts still further.”
British Transport Police Chief Constable Andy Trotter said: “I am delighted that British Transport Police is now established as a key partner within the Safer Travel Partnership and that BTP officers are playing a pivotal part in the success of this innovative, cross-modal initiative which benefits rail, Metro and bus passengers.
“The Safer Travel Partnership provides a win-win situation with passengers benefiting from the close working relationship between BTP and West Midlands Police officers on the team, while the close-knit relationship between the two police forces provides real value-for-money with a far more efficient use of police resources.
“The launch of the new Command Centre will further enhance this burgeoning relationship and will help ensure a seamless policing response to passengers in the West Midlands, across all three modes of transport.”
Peter Coates, Managing Director of National Express West Midlands, added: “We take anti-social behaviour on our buses very seriously and as a result of the action we have taken this has fallen by 65 per cent in the last five years. Incidents of serious crime on the bus are few and far between but we know that our customers don’t want people smoking, playing loud music and refusing to pay their fares.
“The brand new state of the art command centre and extra police officers for the bus network are great news for our customers. We encourage people travelling on our services to use the ‘See Something Say Something’ number and website to help us target the problems they want fixing.”
Passengers who witness nuisance behaviour during their bus, rail or Metro journey can use the See Something Say Something service by texting 'bus' or 'metro' or ‘rail’ followed by a space and then details of the incident including time, date, location and route number to 83010.
Alternatively they can give details by logging on to the www.safertravelinfo/ website or by telephoning West Midlands Police on 0345 113 5000.
In the case of an urgent crime or an emergency they should dial 999 as usual.