London police are ramming moped muggers, shocking and confusing criminals who thought it ‘wasn’t allowed’

  • 63 suspects have been deliberately knocked off their mopeds this year, helping slash crimes involving the nimble bikes
  • UK police say criminals react with surprise at being rammed by police cars, incorrectly believing such tactics are illegal
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2018, 5:46am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2018, 9:41pm

Police in London say tough tactics used against suspected violent thieves on mopeds, including chasing them and knocking them off their bikes, have helped reduce crime.

The Metropolitan Police said there had been a 44 per cent reduction in thefts that involved mopeds or scooters since the tactics were adopted last year.

These include providing officers with a special marking spray to fire at suspects, using remote-controlled spikes to burst the tyres of bikes, and using police cars to knock suspects off their bikes.

Officers had previously been reluctant to chase mopeds, some driven at high speed by suspects as young as 14, amid fears of injury or death.

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But Inspector Jim Corbett said those who thought they would not be chased if they took off their helmets were in for a surprise: “A big myth that we have is that if people remove their helmets they think they are not going to be pursued.”

They are shocked. They say ‘We did not think you were allowed to do that,’ especially when they take off their helmet. They are confused
Tactical police driver Sergeant Tony McGovern

He said officers were told by one person they caught: “I took my helmet off as I thought you would stop chasing me.” That person, who was later jailed, rode on to the pavement. Officers deemed him a danger to the public and used “tactical contact”, to knock him off his scooter.

A special team called Scorpion drivers have been trained in tactical contact. Policies were drawn up using legal experts to minimise the chances of officers being prosecuted for using the technique, which was introduced in October 2017.

So far this year officers have knocked suspects off their mopeds or scooters 63 times, including those who have taken off their helmets.

Video released by police showed some suspects literally throwing up their arms in anger after being knocked off their bikes.

One Scorpion driver, Sergeant Tony McGovern, said it was one of the hardest tactics to use: “It’s just a slight nudge. It’s controlled.” He said suspects were amazed when in some cases they were sent sprawling off their mopeds. “They are shocked. They say ‘We did not think you were allowed to do that,’ especially when they take off their helmet. They are confused.”

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He said other police cars would try to slow the scooter or moped before he and other specialist drivers struck the suspect’s vehicle at “as slow a speed as possible”.

McGovern said Scorpion drivers aimed to minimise injury to those being pursued and civilians, so at impact they removed their foot from the accelerator and used the brakes to nudge the suspect off their bike. “It’s incredibly quick and very dynamic. You’re decision-making changes in a split second,” he said.

Three incidents have been referred to the police watchdog for investigation.

The Met said last year 24 per cent of their pursuits involved officers chasing mopeds or scooters. This year, that figure rose to 40 per cent.

The issue of moped crime has been seen as part of a crime wave that made headlines and added to public unease about the prevalence of violence.

Hailing a fall in crime where mopeds were used, the Met said from January to October 2017 there were 19,455 offences in London. From January this year to October there were 12,419.

Commander Amanda Pearson said: “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.

“Offenders on mopeds and motorcycles who attempt to evade the police are making a choice that puts themselves and others at risk. A lot of them get up and run away, looking aghast at how dare we.”

Several factors triggered the surge in moped crime from early 2017. One was a rise in people owning mopeds, coupled with security measures not being tough enough to stop them being stolen.

Mobile phones are lucrative gadgets for thieves, and the Met had previously said Apple iPhones were the target in two-thirds of thefts, followed by Samsung Galaxy phones.

Youths behind the thefts can make up to £2,000 (US$2,560) an hour by getting £200 (US$256) per phone they steal.

The crime wave is being driven by a growing illegal market in phone parts, with some youths stealing brands of mobiles to order, with signs some offending was highly organised.