I am writing to you under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to request the following information:
1) How many vehicles are owned in total by West Midlands Police? Please break down by vehicle type (motorcycle, patrol car, response car etc).
2) Please provide a breakdown of all police vehicle damage recorded by members of West Midlands Police in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 so far. Please break the data down by calendar year, by vehicle type (motorcycle, patrol car, response car, etc) and by cost of each individual incident. Please provide a summary of each incident.
3) How many police vehicles have been reported stolen in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 to date? Please provide a breakdown by year.
4) How many police vehicles have been written off in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 to date? Please provide a breakdown by year.
5) What was the total cost of police vehicle damage to West Midlands Police in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 to date? Please provide a breakdown by year.
We can confirm that some relevant information is held by West Midlands Police. However, while the majority of the information is attached to this email I am afraid that I am not required by statute to release all of the information requested. Please find attached a redacted document. This letter serves as a Refusal Notice under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) for the parts of the document that have not been released.
REASONS FOR DECISION
The Freedom of Information Act places two responsibilities on public authorities, the first of which is to confirm what information it holds and secondly to then disclose that information, unless exemptions apply.
In this case, this letter represents a Refusal Notice for the redacted parts of the attached document. The information is exempt by virtue of the following exemptions
Section 31 (1) (a) (b) (Law enforcement)
These exemptions and explanatory notes are shown here:
In line with the above, I am required to complete a Prejudice Test/Public Interest Test (PIT) on disclosure, please see the reasoning at the bottom of this response.
In additional to the enclosed response, West Midlands Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds any other information relevant to your request.
Public Interest Test
Section 31 (1) (a) (b) – Law Enforcement
Unmarked vehicles used in certain specialised roles are non-liveried for the purpose of remaining anonymous. Disclosing the details of these vehicles would mean that they could then be identified. This would compromise the effectiveness of covert operations by alerting individuals involved in criminal activity that there is a police presence, allowing them to take steps to avoid detection.
FACTORS FAVOURING DISCLOSURE
Where public funds are being used by West Midlands Police, the public have an interest in knowing what it is being used for. Disclosure of this information would inform the public of precisely which vehicles their money is being spent on, so that they can be satisfied that it is being used efficiently.
FACTORS FAVOURING NON-DISCLOSURE
Disclosing the type of unmarked vehicles in certain specialised roles would allow for the identification of those vehicles by individuals involved in criminal activities. This would be invaluable information to them, as they could change their behaviour to evade detection or destroy evidence if they suspect that they are being observed. This would compromise the tactical effectiveness of using covert vehicles and hinder the prevention or detection of crime.
For a public interest test, issues that favour disclosure need to be measured against issues that favour non-disclosure. The public interest is not what interests the public, or a particular individual, but what will be the greater good, if released, to the community as a whole.
In considering the public interest in relation to this request, I must balance the factor in relation to transparency and accountability, against the public interest in ensuring that West Midlands Police are able to appropriately enforce the law.
While I recognise the public interest in promoting transparency where the use of public funds is concerned, I feel that this has already been satisfied with the release of the costs of each vehicle.
Releasing specific details of unmarked vehicles used certain specialised roles would allow criminals to be able to identify these vehicles, thus undermining covert operations and compromising law enforcement tactics, meaning that the police service is less effective.
West Midlands Police has a duty to deliver effective law enforcement, ensuring the prevention and detection of crime, and the apprehension of offenders.
Therefore it is my opinion that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information. West Midlands Police will not disclose information that would compromise the future law enforcement role of the force.
Harm in complying with Section 1(1)(a) – to confirm or Deny whether information is held
Any release under FOIA is a disclosure to the world, not just to the individual making the request. To confirm or not that information is held in relation to this request would reveal whether or not West Midlands Police has any other specialised vehicles. Such awareness would reveal tactical capability and is likely to influence the criminals, which may include terrorists or terrorist organisations.
The prevention and detection of crime is the foundation upon which policing is built and the police have a clear responsibility to prevent crime, arrest those responsible for committing crime or those that plan to commit crime. However, there is also a duty of care to the public at large. The UK Police Service has a positive undertaking to protect the public from harm and that duty of care to all involved must be the overriding consideration.
Public Interest Considerations
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a)
There is a public interest in the community being made aware of all the facts relating to vehicles in order to ensure complete openness and transparency. In this case revealing whether or not WMP own any other specialised vehicles would provide transparency and may enhance public debate into policing.
Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a)
The deployment of specialised vehicles is measured and, in the case of armed response vehicles, is authorised by chief officers after careful consideration in order to protect the public and apprehend individuals who use lethal weapons as part of their criminality. To confirm information is held would reveal tactical capability and would place West Midlands Police at a tactical disadvantage. In addition, confirmation or denial may also ‘create’ a fear of crime within the general public relating to armed policing.
West Midlands Police has a duty of care to the community at large and public safety is of paramount importance. If an FOI disclosure revealed information to the world (by citing an exemption or stating no information held) that would undermine the security of the National Infrastructure, offenders, including terrorist organisations, could use this to their advantage which would compromise public safety and more worryingly encourage offenders to carry our further crimes.
The risk to public safety cannot be ignored and West Midlands Police has a responsibility to ensure safety of individuals is protected at all times, as detailed within the harm.
Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing resources for specialist departments and providing reassurance that the Police Service is appropriately and effectively placing resources, there is a strong public interest in knowing that policing activity with regard to the delivery of law enforcement is appropriate and balanced, this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances.
Public safety is of paramount importance and any information which would place individuals at risk and compromise law enforcement, no matter how generic, is not in the public interest. The effective delivery of operational law enforcement is crucial and of a fundamental duty to West Midlands Police. Any disclosure which reveals tactically capability would have a negative impact on law enforcement.
As much as there is a public interest in knowing that the delivery of law enforcement is appropriate and balanced, this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances. Therefore it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test outweighs the need to neither confirm information is held and falls in favour of issuing a neither confirming nor deny refusal.
No inference can be taken from this refusal that information does or does not exist.