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Police use of stingers on motorcycles demonstrates double standards

The Southend Shakedown was brought to a standstill this weekend when Essex police deployed a stinger device against motorcyclists.

Reports surfaced of a small number of motorcyclists riding dangerously in some parts of Southend during the iconic Shakedown ride to the seaside town.

Videos on social media showed an officer deploying the stinger then facing the wrath of individuals stopped by the device. You can see one of the videos, on Facebook, here.

Comments accompanying the videos on various Facebook groups ranged from the supportive to the outraged. The majority, although not universal, consensus, felt the devices are too dangerous to use on motorcycles.

Many of the comments used language and expressed opinions you wouldn’t want to repeat in front of your children. Many were personal and offensive comments directed towards the officer concerned.

Such was the outcry by bikers that the cop in charge of policing the event went on camera to explain why the stinger had been deployed under her command, and to ask that the personal attacks on her officer cease.

stingers on motorcycles
Essex Police Chief Superintendent Rachael Nolan explains her use of the stinger.

You can see her video on Facebook, here.

We can’t condone the onslaught the officer in question. We don’t condone the behaviour of the idiots riding dangerously around the town, either. They might ride motorcycles, but they are not bikers. The sooner BikeLife dies an early death, the better.

We do seriously criticise the police for using a stinger in these circumstances.

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Exceptional circumstances?

When the use of stingers on motorcycles was first mooted, the police insisted they were only to be used under exceptional circumstances, including against motorcycle-borne criminals.

In the case of the Shakedown, the stinger was deployed in front of stationary traffic, with filtering bikes travelling at, we guess 15-20mph. Hardly exceptional circumstances.

The police and some commentators said the reason the stinger was deployed was to ensure the safe crossing of a number of children on bicycles. However, the videos show the children arriving and crossing the road behind the officer’s back and the stinger was deployed after the kids had crossed the road. It was also clear that the officer had the stinger in his hand after he had already stopped the traffic. The implication is that he was out to stop the motorcycles using the stinger, regardless.

Double standards

Aside from the specifics of this particular case, what we see is double standards by the police. They require their officers to jump through hoops before they can chase a suspect on two wheels, for fear of causing them an injury; yet they seem happy to put a motorcyclist’s life on the line by using a stinger device.

If you aren’t familiar with them, stingers are strips of spikes which are designed to burst and deflate tyres. They were designed for use on speeding cars.

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Officers from South Wales and South Yorkshire police conducted some tests using stingers against motorcycles, declaring the spiked strips were safe to use against powered two-wheelers. In our opinion, the testing was deeply flawed and stingers should not be considered safe to use against bikes.

Our biggest concern lies in the ability of the rider to react to a series of sharp spikes being thrown in front of them. Unlike cars where brake pressure is sent to the front and rear wheels in equal measure, when a motorcyclist performs an emergency stop it is too easy to ‘grab’ the front brake too hard. The front wheel can lock up and skid, often sending the bike to the floor. It doesn’t take much for the front wheel to loose traction.

In this circumstance, it’s not just the bike that is going down the road; the rider will often be following too. Both can slide into, and more importantly onto those spikes. Spikes that are designed to penetrate tough rubber – so imagine what they do to human skin and unprotected eyes.

You would think the police tests would have this covered. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Instead of testing the real world scenario of an inexperienced rider, or a rider panicking, the tests were conducted by highly experienced and skilled officers, who obviously were highly aware of the danger being placed in front of them. Some of their test bikes were fitted with stabilising devices.

This risk of injury is, in our opinion, completely unacceptable. Until the ‘lay down’ scenario has been properly tested and proved to not lead to potentially serious injury, the use of stingers in anything but extreme circumstances is completely unacceptable.

We are not convinced even a blinkered senior officer trying to defend her own orders and the reputation of her officers can make any claim that the circumstances leading to the Shakedown deployment were even remotely extreme.

Get yourself sorted:

Read more about our concerns over the original tests, including a link to the tests themselves.

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The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He owns five bikes right now:

'78 Kawasaki Z650
'97 Triumph Daytona 955i
'11 Triumph Tiger 800
'09 Yamaha R1
'88 Suzuki TS125X

At any one time, only two of these bikes are ever working, as you can read about on our blog.