Every Police officer knows the phrase `every contact leaves a trace` in relation to forensic evidence and crime scenes but the word contact has now been given a very different meaning in policing terms.
Last week the Met Police released details of a supposedly new tactic they have been using to deal with moped related crime. The official title of this method is `tactical contact` but as usual the main stream media have adopted the much more dynamic and emotive phrase of `ramming` to describe the method of stopping a fleeing suspect on a moped. Finally, the Police service had once again found its backbone and were being pro active in the fight against crime and tackling what was fast becoming a scourge on society with no apparent solution.
Inevitably, some have now started to challenge this increased use of force and predicted serious or possible fatal outcomes when young men are knocked off a moped or motorbike when trying to evade capture.
This is not a new tactic – during the last year the Met decided to change their policy in respect of pursuits of mopeds that had been involved in crime. Prior to this, many pursuits were terminated and the suspects were allowed to ride off despite riding recklessly and putting members of the public at risk. Some of them even brazenly removed their crash helmets and waved them deliberately at the pursuing police vehicles knowing it would be captured on the Police vehicles camera and cause the pursuit to end.
There was a significant reduction on the numbers of offences committed by suspects on mopeds, as word spread that the Police had a new dedicated unit taking the offensive and being more pro active and using different methods. The Met set up Scorpion units, small teams of officers working mainly in plain clothes with unmarked cars with covert blue lights and sirens. They were located near the regular locations for the moped crimes to take place and started to have an immediate impact – no pun. They were supported by the uniformed and marked area cars and traffic cars in the Met but only if the driver was TPAC trained (tactical pursuit and containment). The TPAC course is in addition to the advanced police driving qualification and only TPAC trained drivers are authorised to use the tactical contact method. The driving course is exceptionally tough to pass and requires the officer to give a verbal commentary during the pursuit, continually identifying and assessing hazards and risks. Tactical contact is only authorised after a senior officer has assessed the offence, the risk to the public and confirmed that an authorised TPAC driver is pursuing the suspect. It is then a decision for the Police driver as to when or if they use the tactical contact but again it is part of an ongoing and dynamic risk assessment taking account of hazards and risks to the public and the suspect. To use the word `ramming` is not accurate and some have taken that to interpret it as reckless, careless or dangerous. Police drivers are highly trained and professional and understand better than most the potential risks when anyone comes off a moped or motorbike. There remains the opportunity for the suspect to pull over and stop or dare I say it – not commit the crime in the first place. The contact is initiated to knock the suspect off the bike and prevent them from potentially injuring anyone else.
In a perfect world, people wouldn’t steal property, threaten other people with knives or use violence against each other. Police officers do not work in a perfect world and must do the best they can to protect the public from any of those events taking place.
The critics of the Met using this supposed new tactic, never seem to have an alternative option or preferred method in how to stop a suspect on a moped. They also fail to understand the potential outcome on innocent members of the public if mopeds are allowed to ride dangerously and recklessly or the increasing level of lawlessness this would result in.
I was a Police pursuit driver, although we never had TPAC as a tactic, so I was not trained to that degree, but I had many vehicle and moped pursuits. In my experience, suspects do not slow down or drive/ride carefully even if a Police vehicle stops following them. Once they think they have been spotted they accelerate away and then risk everything to evade capture, they put themselves and anyone else on the road at risk of serious or fatal injury. They have no responsibility for their actions or any care for anyone else, at that moment they only think of themselves and will put anyone else at risk to ensure they get away.
For me, this is a proportionate and reasonable use of force that is carried out by highly trained professionals under authority of senior Police officers who have assessed the facts of the case. My main concern is around the legal situation of the police driver who uses tactical contact and could then potentially face an investigation led by the Independent Office for Police Conduct. As it currently stands, the test for dangerous, reckless or careless driving under the Road Traffic Act is that of a careful and competent driver – there are no allowances or exemptions for emergency response drivers including Police officers or any allowance for their extensive and specialised training. There is a private members bill waiting to have a second reading to close this loophole for emergency response drivers. I hope this can become law soon but meanwhile once again, Police officers are putting themselves on the line to protect the public and reduce violent crime without the full backing or support of the law. They do seem to have for once, the support of the majority of the public who want crimes to stop and suspects to be arrested, the so-called silent majority who have now found their voice judging by social media and calls to radio phone in shows.