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Date Responded 14 June 2023

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.

You asked:

Please provide me with a complete list of all vehicles currently operated by Northumbria Police.

For each vehicle, please provide the following:

*Registration Number

*Date the vehicle was registered

*Vehicle make e.g. Mercedes Sprinter, Vauxhall Corsa

*What the vehicle is used for

*Where the vehicle is normally based

*Date the vehicle joined your fleet

In Response:

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 held by Northumbria Police.

I am able to disclose the located information to you as follows:

  • The attached document contains information where we have considered that there is no harm in its release. 

For information not for public disclosure, that is information relating to Covert, Armed Response Vehicles, and registration numbers the below has been considered applicable to withhold.

Section 31(1)(a)(b) – Law Enforcement

Section 31 and is a prejudice based qualified exemption and as such there is a requirement to articulate the harm that would be caused in providing the information as well as carrying out a public interest test.  I have carried these out below. 

Evidence of Harm

As you may be aware, disclosure under FOIA is a release to the public at large.  Whilst not questioning the motives of the applicant, releasing any information held regarding the number of specialist or covert vehicles, would allow criminals to note what capacity and tactical capabilities the force had, allowing them to target specific areas of the UK to conduct their criminal/terrorist activities.  This would lead to an increase in harm of attacks 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.

Furthermore, the Police are there to support the public and deliver effective law enforcement.  Releasing details regarding the total number of covert vehicles would provide intelligence into what the vehicles were used for and the capabilities of Northumbria Police in comparison to other forces.  The information could then be used by criminals and allow them to target specific vehicles or avoid vehicles to prevent them for being detected.

Disclosure of VRNs could again be of intelligence value to a person or persons with criminal or malicious intent.  Full disclosure could provide and enable targeted malicious actions, be that some form of attack on an operational unit, or avoiding that unit for example where strengths and weakness may be perceived (whether incorrectly or not).  Although VRNs are an overtly displayed marker that can be clearly seen and are intended to be seen, to disclose a ready-collated list of vehicles with complete vehicle registration numbers would be substantially more harmful than the limited availability of related information via the visibility of vehicles whilst on public roads.  In practice, all of this information is not realistically accessible to a member of the public and is therefore not in the public domain.

Providing full lists of VRNs for marked vehicles provides opportunities for criminality to benefit, or for risks to be extended to members of the public:

  • Marked police vehicles are often exempt toll and congestion charges, facilitated by automatic recognition of VRN; cloned vehicles would avoid these charges.
  • Decommissioned police vehicles are sold at public auction and will re-appear in domestic use, usually driven by members of the public.  Lists of VRNs accessible by criminals, such as Organised Crime Gangs (even if out of date), may potentially expose unaware members of public to direct challenge and/or risk of harm.  
  • Detailed VRN listings will potentially enable a criminal gang to understand the force’s capability, through the volumes and types of vehicles being operated; for example numbers of ARV & RPU (Armed Response / Traffic), comparative to other models.

Additionally, law enforcement tactics and operational capability would be compromised with the disclosure of VRN details requested such as that relating to unmarked cars, as those who wish to commit criminal acts will be more aware of what vehicles may belong to the force in a covert role, that assist with preventing and detecting crime.

Such a disclosure would allow those with criminal intent the ability to build up a mosaic picture of force capabilities and resources and use this information to undermine law enforcement.  This places the community at increased unnecessary risk of harm and impacts on police resources if additional resources and tactics need to be put in place to counter any harm caused by an adverse FOIA disclosure.  Information that undermines the operational integrity of the police will adversely affect public safety and have a negative impact on operational law enforcement. 

Public Interest Test

Factors favouring disclosure under Section 31

Releasing information held relating to specialist vehicles & VRNs would provide an insight into the police resources and enable the public to have a better understanding of the effectiveness of the police.  The release of such information would demonstrate the openness of the organisation and would contribute to the accuracy and quality of public debate

Factors against disclosure under Section 31

It has been recorded that FOIA releases are monitored by criminals and terrorists and so releasing information held relating to VRNs, unmarked, specialist and covert vehicles as well as information that  would allow the identification of all vehicles would undermine and compromise law enforcement and it would also hinder any local, regional or national operations.

It can be argued that there are significant risks associated with providing information in relation to any aspects that can assist criminal planning and that any nation's security arrangements, by releasing the information, may reveal the relative vulnerability of what we may be trying to protect and could enable police strength to be determined and circumvented by those intent on committing crime.  This could also lead to vehicles and officers being identified which would render their covert capabilities useless.

The Police Service would not wish to reveal resource information that would undermine the law enforcement operations, would impact on police resources and negatively impact on public safety and undermine the policing purpose, as more crime would be committed because criminals/terrorists would know which forces had less/more capability.  This in turn would place the public at a greater risk and a fear of crime would be realised, especially for those areas perceived as most vulnerable.

Balance Test

The security of the public and the country is of paramount importance and the Police service will not divulge resources, if to do so would place the safety of individuals at risk, due to providing information which would compromise law enforcement.  Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing resources and providing assurance that the police service is appropriately prepared and effectively engaging with the threat posed by various groups or individuals, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of police resources and operations in the highly sensitive areas such as extremism, crime prevention, public disorder and terrorism prevention.

As much as there is public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances.  It is our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for exempting your request at those parts is relevant.  It is not in the public interest for law enforcement tactics and operational capability to be compromised with the disclosure of Covert Fleet, ARVs or  VRNs, as those who wish to commit criminal acts will be more aware of the vehicles in operation to assist with preventing and detecting crime.

Such a disclosure that would allow those with criminal intent the ability to build up a mosaic picture of force capabilities and resources which could be used to undermine law enforcement, which places the community at increased unnecessary risk of harm and impacts on police resources would not be in the public interest.

You should consider this to be a refusal notice under section 17 of the Act for these parts of your request.

FOI 768-23 - Fleet P

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