Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')
As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held at the time of a request, by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.
1. How many BMW vehicles with an N57 engine the does the force have and use? These will include, but not be limited to, such models as the 330, 330d, 530d, 5 series etc. (All forces have been issued with guidance about cars with this engine, so the force will know which cars have it).
2. For what purpose are these cars used?
3. What restrictions, if any, has the force imposed on usage of these cars? Eg, including, but not limited to, setting an upper speed limit or advising drivers not to sit with the engine idling.
4. What special maintenance of these cars, if any, has been implemented? Eg, including, but not limited to, more frequent oil changes or inspections.
We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention.
Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted with the Fleet Department of Northumbria Police. I can confirm that the information you have requested is not held by Northumbria Police with regards to the overt use of such vehicles as these vehicles are not used by Northumbria Police.
With regards to the covert use of such vehicles the below exemption is applicable to neither confirm nor deny any information is held.
Section 31(3) - Law Enforcement
Section 31 is prejudice based and qualified which means that there is a requirement to articulate the harm in confirming or not whether information is held as well as carrying out a public interest test.
There may be occasions when complying with the duty to confirm or deny under section 1(1)(a) would in itself disclose sensitive or potentially damaging information that falls under an exemption. In these circumstances, the Act allows a public authority to respond by refusing to confirm or deny whether it holds the requested information.
Disclosure under FOIA is a release to the public at large. Whilst not questioning the motives of the applicant, confirming or denying that information is held regarding the covert use of such vehicles would show criminals the tactical abilities and resources of the force, allowing them to amend their criminality and avoid detection. Confirming or denying any information is held relevant to this request, would lead to an increase of harm to investigations and compromise law enforcement. This would be to the detriment of providing an efficient policing service and a failure in providing a duty of care to all members of the public.
Confirming or denying what vehicles we may have available to use to use in a covert way, in this case BMWs, would limit operational capabilities as criminals/terrorists would gain a greater understanding of the police forces’ resources, methods and techniques, enabling them to take steps to counter them. This detrimental effect is increased if the request is made to several different law enforcement bodies. In addition to the local criminal fraternity now being better informed, those intent on organised crime throughout the UK will be able to ‘map’ where the use of certain tactics are or are not deployed. This can be useful information to those committing crimes. It would have the likelihood of identifying location-specific operations which would ultimately compromise police tactics, operations and future prosecutions as criminals could be aware of the vehicles being used covertly.
In addition, by fully knowing whether or not these vehicles are used may also put the general public at risk of harm if criminals who might otherwise be engaged in criminal activities and suspect they are under police surveillance, to target specific makes and models of vehicles they believe are being used by the police or law enforcement partners.
Any information identifying the focus of policing activity could be used to the advantage of terrorists or criminal organisations. Information that undermines the operational integrity of these activities will adversely affect public safety and have a negative impact on both national security and law enforcement.
Public Interest Test
Factors favouring Neither Confirming or Denying - Confirming or denying whether such vehicles may be used covertly would enable the public to have a better understanding of the effectiveness of the police and assist in the quality and accuracy of public debate. Where public funds are being spent, there is a public interest in accountability and justifying the use of public money.
It is well known that the police use covert vehicles and confirming or denying whether any information is held regarding the use of BMW vehicles would ensure transparency and accountability and enable the public to see what tactics are deployed by the Police Service to detect crime.
Factors against Confirming or Denying - Confirming or denying that any information is held regarding the covert use of BMWs would have the effect of compromising law enforcement tactics and would also hinder any future investigations. In addition, confirming or denying methods used to gather intelligence for an investigation would prejudice that investigation and any possible future proceedings.
It has been recorded that FOIA releases are monitored by criminals and terrorists and so to confirm or deny information is held concerning specialist covert tactics would lead to law enforcement being undermined. The Police Service is reliant upon all manner of techniques during operations and the public release of any such information, if held, would prejudice the ability of the Police Service to conduct investigations and Law Enforcement.
By confirming or denying that BMWs are used covertly would hinder the prevention or detection of crime. The Police Service would not wish to reveal what tactics may or may not be used to gain intelligence or apprehend offenders, as this would clearly undermine the law enforcement and investigative process. This would impact on police resources and more crime and terrorist incidents would be committed, placing individuals at risk.
Law Enforcement is of paramount importance and Northumbria Police will not divulge whether any other information is or is not held regarding the use of BMW vehicles, if to do so would place the safety of an individual at risk, undermine National Security or compromise law enforcement.
As much as there is public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances. The use of covert vehicles can be a sensitive issue that would reveal police tactics and therefore it is our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for confirming or denying whether any information is held regarding the further use of BMWs is not made out.
However, this should not be taken as necessarily indicating that any information that would meet your request exists or does not exist.