London Police Release Video Of Officers' Cars Hitting Mopeds, Triggering A Debate
Scotland Yard officers are specially trained to end pursuits of law-breakers on mopeds and motorcycles — by striking them with their own vehicles, as video released by London's police department shows. The footage has sparked a range of reactions, from approval to scorn.
"It is hoped that by demonstrating the full range of tactics that officers are prepared to use against moped and motorcycle criminals, potential offenders will think twice about their actions," the Metropolitan Police said as it released the video.
The agency created a video montage that is essentially a highlight reel of police cars pursuing mopeds and motorcycles — and bumping into them, sending their riders flying into the street or sidewalk.
Many of the riders were pursued as part of a crackdown on "moped crime," Scotland Yard says, referring to thieves who snatch phones, handbags, watches, and other items before speeding away on mopeds.
Moped-related crime has dropped by 36 percent in 2018, and London police say the new tactics are part of the reason. Ramming the scooters and motorcycles is part of a "range of tactics used to tackle moped crime in London," the police say.
It's all part of Operation Venice, a police plan to cut down on moped crime. Other tactics include using boxes of spikes to flatten tires, and deploying special sprays to mark suspects. But it's the ramming that has drawn the most attention.
Officers in a special unit are trained as "Scorpion" drivers who are "trained in tactical contact" involving their police vehicles, The Guardian reports. One driver tells the newspaper that suspects are often stunned that London police officers — most of whom do not carry guns — would hit them with a car.
The practice has also dispelled another myth, according to Scotland Yard's Frontline Policing Commander Amanda Pearson.
"There is a perception that if you remove your helmet or fail to stop for police when requested to do so we will not take any further course of action," Pearson said, in a police statement about its tactics. "This is untrue."
Pearson added, "The public quite rightly expects us to intervene to keep London safe. Our highly trained police drivers weigh up the risks and decide upon the most appropriate tactics in those circumstances."
Those who flee the police on a motorbike, she added, are putting themselves and others at risk.
The video has sparked a mix of strong reactions, including attempts at humor. Since it was posted to the police department's Facebook page, the footage has been viewed more than 270,000 times. In that forum, the most-liked comment came from Glenn Atkins, who asked, "Can't believe the police are doing this, makes no sense!" He added, "Why do they brake after hitting them?"
Another commenter, Louise Brain, said, "I think you've got the public's full support on this. It wasn't until I moved to London that I discovered the - very real - daily threat of moped gangs. It's rampant and needs a firm response."
Addressing that issue last November, the U.K.'s then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd told a meeting of the National Police Chiefs' Council, "We're reviewing the law and practice regarding police pursuits."
Rudd added, "We want to make sure officers feel they have the legal protection they need to go after moped and scooter gangs."
Scotland Yard released the video months after new guidance came from the U.K.'s Policing Minister Nick Hurd, who sought to reassure officers who might worry about facing charges for chasing suspects who ride scooters and mopeds. The change of tactics came after police officials reported a surge in moped-related crime in recent years.
The police say that after nearly 20,000 moped-related thefts occurred in London from January to October in 2017, less than 12,500 of such crimes have taken place in the same period this year.
Fewer mopeds are also being stolen, the police say, citing nearly a third less thefts in the first 10 months of 2018 compared to last year.
After the video caused a stir online and in the media, the Metropolitan Police noted the attention and said via Twitter, "Our message is clear: we can, we will and we do target those involved in moped and motorcycle crime at every opportunity."
Lots of this morning’s front pages pick up on our tactics used against moped thieves. Our message is clear: we can, we will and we do target those involved in moped and motorcycle crime at every opportunity https://t.co/CxO7dRw63d— Metropolitan Police | #StayHomeSaveLives (@metpoliceuk) November 24, 2018
To that tweet, a user named Joy replied, "As knife crime, domestic abuse and acts of terrorism continue to rise in London you get out your aggression by hitting non-violent thieves with cars???"
The actions in the video, she added, depicted "police brutality at the very least."
In another comment, Liam Whitwell said, "Spot on. Live by the sword. Die by the sword. Enough of this poncing around politics" — to which another user replied, "Nicking a moped isn't living by the sword."
As for any injuries that may have resulted from such tactics, the BBC reports, "The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said it is investigating three cases involving 'tactical contact' by Met police cars on scooters. However, none of the three cases involved officers from Operation Venice."
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.