All cats are grey in the dark. Unless the Lisbon Municipal Police (LMP) is on duty.
LMP Traffic Department officers have been scrupulously patrolling the 2nd Ring Road from 20pm to 6am since August. Repaving, road sign replacement and road improvement works are currently underway. The LMP is responsible for ensuring the safety of all workers, drivers and citizens in general.
At 7pm, LMP Traffic Department officers have already prepared all materials and equipment they need for the operation with which they have been tasked: night-time policing of the 2nd Ring Road.
The officers put on reflector vests and arm and leg guards. All equipment is checked before being put in the vans: traffic cones, torches, radios, etc. It’s time for a last cup of coffee, someone buys a bottle of water from the machine, the officers chat and watch the clock attentively. This lively atmosphere, which seems slightly chaotic, is nevertheless organised.
At 19:45 the officers set off from the Station, at Praça de Espanha, towards the 2nd Ring Road. The entire operation is meticulously organised and adequately planned. On this very cold night, they will meet by the Lisbon Airport petrol station.
Commissioner David Vieira, deputy Commander of the LMP Traffic Department and safety operation supervisor, shouts the last commands in all directions. Officers are fast and diligent. Motorcycles, vans and patrol cars leave the Cardeal Saraiva Street in the direction of the 2nd Ring Road. ‘This procedure aims to ensure the safety of the contractor’s workers and all drivers,’ explains the Commissioner, who’s been with the LMP for about a year.
However, this mission must be carefully planned, both on strategic and operational levels, in order to be successful.
From a strategic standpoint, the guidelines set by the Commander are followed, explains the Commissioner. And to do this ‘it is necessary to act with due diligence, namely by organising preparatory meetings with the Lisbon City Council and the roadworks contractor.’
The goal is to identify the section of the road to be policed, as well as the necessary traffic blocks, adequate procedures and number of officers and vehicles required. It’s then time to check the site: ‘It’s extremely important to assess the site because sudden changes may occur. For instance, a mere hole may compromise the entire plan.’
Once all details have been verified and all tasks defined, a Mission Order is produced, so that all officers will understand what the Commander wishes to achieve. This is what the LMP will be showing us tonight.
At 8pm, the entire team is gathered by the airport petrol station and ready to police the 2nd Ring Road overnight.
During a small briefing session, the Commissioner instructs the officers, explains who will go where, which accesses must be blocked and watched, and which alternative routes should be communicated to drivers: ‘… alternative route to Estrada da Luz, follow the signs to Avenida Lusíada, in the IP7 direction, turn off at junction 2…’
It must be absolutely ensured that no drivers enter the blocked-off sections, as this might compromise the entire operation and endanger the lives of the workers and police officers: ‘Tonight, we’ll be blocking traffic at 12 locations such as to prevent vehicles from circulating on the 2nd Ring Road while the contractor’s workers place all the necessary signs and block the section where roadworks will take place,’ explains the Commissioner.
Once briefed, the officers hurry in all directions to follow the instructions received. Everything must be ready in little more than an hour.
We travel with officer Melo to Santa Iria de Azóia, where we’ll wait for the works supervisor to start blocking off the A1 road in the south direction.
However, an accident in the opposite direction forces the LMP convoy to halt: ‘Accident involving 3 light-duty vehicles. I’m sorry, we have to stop,’ warns officer Melo. ‘People’s lives always come first,’ says the officer as he runs to the site.
At Santa Iria, patrol cars park side by side. In order to ensure that workers can start their tasks safely, the officers need to slow down traffic gradually, by reducing speed from 80 to 60, 40 and 20 km/h, finally bring vehicles to a stop and blocking off the road temporarily.
It takes 15 minutes to stop traffic completely: ‘Our job here is to slow down traffic safely,’ explains officer Melo. ‘Our major concerns are the safety of people and our own safety. We seek to ensure traffic will flow as smoothly as possible, despite the inconvenience we unfortunately bring to drivers.’
The officers then block all access roads marked on the map, some briefly and some permanently, after which they watch traffic carefully, such as to ensure no driver attempts to force their way into the blocked-off area.
This is a complex, precise operation that requires a lot of attention and patience, explains Commissioner David Vieira. ‘This police operation is carried out in two stages, i.e. blocking off the road and then restoring normal traffic conditions. Roadworks take place in between. While we’re not responsible for the latter, we must nevertheless ensure that no vehicle enters the 2nd Ring Road until 6am. Therefore, in addition to blocking the road, we need to guarantee that everything goes according to plan.’
Nevertheless, there are always drivers who try to cut through the blocked-off sections, ignoring the signs and traffic cones, affirms office Melo, shrugging. ‘Most people react well; however, some drivers get offended and think this is being done expressly to inconvenience them.’ Handling this situation requires a lot of calm and understanding: ‘We understand that people get annoyed and angry in the heat of the moment.’ The biggest problem, he stresses, is when the most quarrelsome drivers appear, those who get to the point of confronting the officers: ‘Some people have difficulty understanding that we’re there to keep them safe. And we’ve even had some people driving up to our vehicles to demand explanations. We need to explain the situation and calm them down until they realise this policing is being done to ensure the safety of all.’
However, the LMP underlines that most drivers are willing to cooperate and praises their citizenship.
Patience is key and everyone will need it until 5am, when the workers start moving all machinery and equipment and the officers can enjoy a well-deserved rest.
- On average, 110 thousand vehicles circulate daily on the 2nd Ring Road, the busiest urban road in the country;
- The roadworks currently underway aim to improve safety and driving conditions;
- Roadworks will continue to be carried out at night, such as to minimise inconvenience and reduce traffic jams, until the middle of the year.
The Lisbon Municipal Police is a municipal force equivalent to a Municipal Department.
Its mission is to serve the citizens and keep them safe by ensuring compliance with municipal laws and regulations, encouraging active citizenship and engaging people in improving their own safety and quality of live in the city.
Its values are underpinned by an effort to prioritise prevention and a strong focus on multiculturalism in local communities, supported by the most advanced IT systems. The LMP seeks to build close relationships with the citizens, based on credibility, respect and trust.