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What happened to cops on skates in UK?

By Amy Blackburn
BBC News

Skating policeman

Parisian police deployed officers on rollerskates for the troubled Olympic torch relay. What about bobbies on blades in the UK?

Upon its arrival in Paris, the Olympic flame was met with the same protests that greeted it in London. But among the lines of police was something radical - officers on roller skates.

Police on skates are apparently a common sight in Paris. The city's weekly night rollerskating event, Pari-Roller, can attract up to 5,000 skaters to complete the three-hour circuit of the city. Naturally, these skaters are accompanied by police outriders.

But while French skating police are a fact of life, a similar scheme in the UK fizzled out prematurely.

The skating police just weren't quite as nimble as we'd hoped
Sussex police

In 2000, a four-strong team of roller skating officers were introduced to the Royal Parks Constabulary in London's Kensington Gardens.

Despite promises that they would revolutionise the policing of London's parks, the pilot scheme was abandoned only a few months later.

There was said to be a fatal flaw in the idea of a skating pursuit. Perpetrators would simply run across the grass, where the skate police could not follow.

Bike alternative

"Only two officers ever patrolled in them and did so on just a few occasions. As far as we know they have never been used since 2000," says a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police, with whom the RPC have since merged.

Elsewhere in the UK, Brighton was one of the first cities in the world to put officers on inline skates, but the use of skating police to patrol the seafront and proms lasted just one summer.

"The take-up wasn't huge among the officers", says a spokeswoman for Sussex police.

Roller skating police in London
London quickly turned its back on roller skating police

"We piloted the skates for a year. When they didn't work out we decided to invest in some lightweight bikes, which have been a resounding success. The skating police just weren't quite as nimble as we'd hoped."

Paris is far from the only city in Europe with a rollerskating police squad. Similar forces have been introduced in Brussels and Amsterdam, as well as further afield, such as Florida.

For some, though, the advantages of rollerskating police officers remain clear.

"With the right training and fitness level, the officers can be much faster than on foot", says Dawn Irwin, who trained the skating squad in London.

"They are also far more versatile, and can reach much narrower spaces than a bike or motorcycle."

Of course, there are obstacles to be overcome when training police officers to use rollerskates.

The skates were looked upon as trivial, rather than a serious crime prevention measure
Skating instructor Dawn Irwin

"Fear can be a big problem, and fitness is very important", Irwin says.

Paris was the first city to introduce a substantial squad of skating officers, and their success is illustrated by their involvement in high-profile police operations such as protecting the torch.

So why didn't the roller skating experiment work in London's parks? As well as high police staff turnover and a lack of budget, Irwin feels that one of the biggest problems was traditional British scepticism.

"The UK rarely seems to be willing to embrace new ideas", she says. "A scheme like the one in Kensington Gardens needs central government support, but it was looked on as trivial rather than as a serious crime prevention measure.

"It would give the police another string to their bow. If you've got an officer on skates chasing someone on foot, who's going to win?"


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I've rollerskated for years as a child and then as a teenager and I can honestly say that the idea of a police officer chasing somebody on roller blades is ridiculous! I am much faster on foot as are all but the most well practiced skaters and even they will find climbing a fence pretty difficult with wheels strapped to their feet. They also pose a serious problem of what to do when you catch up with the person you're chasing, I'd really rather not try and subdue a difficult suspect with a major disadvantage on balance. If it works in Paris then all credit to the officers that can pull it off but I can't see it becoming wide spread!
Roscoe, Leicester, England

Excellent story, I had to check the date to make sure the part about perpetrators escaping across the grass wasn't an April fools joke.
James, Glasgow

France is just more 'skate' friendly. People of all ages use them to commute, tour the sights even push their three wheel prams while skating. The staff in my local hypermarket wear them to get around the acres of floor space. I don't think it would work so well in the UK because of the poor roads and congested pavements.
John, France

But the skating police in Paris were not able to protect the Olympic torch. It was put out. One-up to London there, depending on how you look at it.
Robert Carnegie, Hamilton, Scotland

As a Special Constable myself, I can't see how this is very practical. It may be great to move around and chase someone, but what happens when you catch them? Rollerskates are very clumsy when you're standing still - one hard pull from the bloke he was trying to handcuff and the bobbie would be flat on his face and the villain on his way again.
James,

Even better, give them pogo sticks coupled with the last daft idea of having camcorders built into policemens helmets the crooks will be falling about laughing and considerably easier to catch.
Bernie Cook, Harrogate

I noticed on the footage of the UK Olympic torch demonstrations that the mountain bike police were not able to effectively react to attempts by protesters to reach the torch. They were either knocked off, or fell off, their bikes, and were left floundering stride the crossbar, looking back over their shoulders. The French inline skaters were much better able to react quickly then the british mountain bikers.
Andy, Staffordshire

"With the right training and fitness level, the officers can be much faster than on foot". That seems to just about cover it! In Britain, we are more than capable of embracing new ideas, but we never plan for them. If we had proper training for fit police officers in great enough numbers, they would probably do a much better job than policing in it's current state. With or without the skates...
Heather, Willenhall

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