This week has seen the Metropolitan Police in London announce that they will, and indeed have been, using tactical contact to knock moped riders suspected of committing crime off their mopeds in order to stop pursuits, arrest offenders and prevent further crime. Video has been published showing contact happening, with scenes of moped riders being knocked some distance off their mopeds.
Officers engaged in this tactic have been trained to carry it out, and will conduct a dynamic risk assessment to determine whether there is a tolerable level of risk to the public, police and offender. If that assessment shows that the risk is acceptable and/or controllable, then the officers may use their police vehicle to make contact and stop the moped rider.
UK Protection, providing as we do services to very high end clients in London and elsewhere have seen first hand the type of crime that suspects on mopeds commit. Attacks on premises we guard have happened, leading to significant loss but more pertinently considerable harm to people, who have been threatened with extreme violence from riders wielding machetes and lump hammers. Indeed, I have referred to this type of offending being committed by ‘feral’ people intent on committing crime and prepared to take extraordinary risks to do so. The mopeds, often stolen, give them a perfect platform to commit drive by offences such as purse and mobile telephone snatches, and then armed robbery at premises. Acting with aggressive speed, the offenders commit their crime and quickly flee the scene, making attempts to stop them difficult and preventing offences even harder.
From January to October 2017 there were nearly 20,000 crimes committed where mopeds were involved in London – this has reduced to 12,500 for the same period this year. That means there are fewer victims, fewer people exposed to extreme violence and a massive reduction on cost to society through fewer insurance claims and other associated costs.
However, the tactic is not without risk. No matter how well trained officers are, how careful they are with the risk assessment things can go wrong. I would say it is a matter of when, not if – and the harm that could be caused as a result is significant.
This then becomes the balance. Are such tactics justified, proportionate and necessary? Ultimately, the officer deploying the tactic will have to justify their actions – and if deemed inappropriate then they could face significant penalty as a result. This is part of the check and balance on the conduct of the police that is critical to have in place for a society where policing is carried out with our consent. If society, as a whole, is not satisfied that these tactics are appropriate, then through the Courts and other mechanisms that view would become apparent, and the tactic would be discontinued.
I have seen some commentators this week brand the tactic as ‘police violence’ and speak out against it. The shadow Home Secretary stated that there should be a debate on the use of this tactic, which in many respects I don’t disagree with and therefore have chosen to put my thoughts together in this blog so that that debate can be partially informed and entered into through this blog.
On that basis, I will make my position clear.
Let us assume an individual is reasonably suspected of having murdered someone with a knife, and has now ridden off on a moped to evade capture. Their identity is concealed by a helmet, and the moped is stolen. In those circumstances can anyone really protest that knocking them off the bike, potentially harming them, is not justified? The alternative would be a murderer going free, someone who has shown that they are prepared to murder and therefore a high risk that they will do so again.
At the other end, a rider on their own moped takes a tank full of petrol by filling and driving off without paying. In those circumstances would I advocate knocking them off their moped? No, categorically not. It is therefore a matter of assessment regarding the matters in hand and the appropriate application of the tactic, rather than a binary choice of the police using the tactic or not across the board. The Police are actually very good at making these same sort of choices. Every single incident involving the criminal use of firearms or dealing with people who are ‘otherwise so dangerous’ is subject to the same form of assessment. The effectiveness of this is proved by the number of firearms incidents attended, set against the numbers of shots fired by Police.
It is therefore my belief that the tactic is appropriate in the right circumstances. For those who disagree I would ask – genuinely – what the options are that they would like to see deployed? I can only think of one – and that is to let the suspect go free and discontinue the chase – but if you can think of another option let me know, I am genuinely interested to hear well reasoned opposing views.
At UKP we take an interest in such matters, because our guards confront the reality of crime regularly and are especially interested in this issue, because of their exposure to it. We have taken steps to support the safety of our staff, and to prevent this type of crime happening to premises we look after – but crime is evolutionary, and as we build counter measures, so offenders will seek to overcome them so for us to pretend we will not have to confront this issue again would be foolish entirely.
Let me know your views!