The bike crime epidemic Part 2: Why the police don’t pursue motorcycle criminals

There has been an explosion in motorcycle related crime in the UK. It’s well known that much of the cause is down to Home Office and Police policy that, in attempting to protect the public, in effect offers almost immunity from pursuits for motorcycle-riding criminals. 

We explain what’s behind that policy and also highlight an issue that, if it isn’t resolved, will see the situation continue even if the policy is changed.

On the 19th December 2014, Henry Hicks was a teenager going about his business in his native Islington, in inner London. Whether you believe his business was criminal or innocent we’ll leave for you to decide if you choose to read the numerous court and newspaper reports that covered his death.

The important thing to understand, in the context of the explosion in motorcycle-related crime, is that he died following a pursuit by police officers in unmarked cars.

His family were devastated and led a very public campaign that focused on how many times Henry had been stopped by the police on previous occasions (at least 70 times, but possibly more). They accused the officers following him of persecution and of literally driving him to his death. Tens of thousands of people joined in the highly visible campaign.

Henry Hicks memorial
More than two years after his death Henry Hicks’ memorial outside Pentonville Prison is still maintained with fresh flowers every week.

When the Independent Police Complaints Commission, (IPCC) looked into the case they found various issues around procedure. What has significantly contributed to today’s motorcycle theft epidemic was their finding that, “In the investigator’s opinion, the officers conducted a pursuit without authorisation from a senior officer in the control room.

“MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] policy is that pursuits have to be immediately notified to the control room and authorised in all but exceptional circumstances.

“It is the opinion of the investigator that the officers also did not consider the risks to Henry of the pursuit or make any consideration as to whether he may have been a juvenile.” Their investigation has led to misconduct hearings against two of the officers, which continues today.

Those statements neatly sum up the situation. A pursuit must be authorised by a senior officer who isn’t at the location; because the safety of the general public and the offender is the highest priority.

The criminal fraternity took note.


The policy that makes motorcycle pursuits a rare thing

The College of Policing is the organisation that writes police policy and individual Forces subscribe to those policies (they can also make adaptions and issue further guidance for their own Force’s officers).

In the Authorised Professional Practice for Police Pursuits, the College guidance reads:

Engagement with quad bikes and motorcycles presents additional challenges to those involved in pursuit management. The acceleration and manoeuvrability of these vehicles make it difficult for officers to engage with the subject vehicle for sufficient time to develop and implement tactics. Furthermore, given the lack of physical protection provided by the vehicle, the vulnerability of the rider is a serious consideration. Motorcycle and quad bike pursuits clearly present higher risks for suspects than conventional vehicle pursuit. Only trained and authorised staff should engage in motorcycle and quad bike pursuits and tactics.

“There may be a public interest in engaging motorcycles and quads in pursuits. Where such vehicles are used to facilitate serious crime or used repeatedly as the mode of transport for organised crime groups then, to minimise risk to the public from criminality and to secure public confidence in policing, a pursuit may be justified. ”

So the police can, in some circumstances, chase, but as we’ll see, there are numerous hoops that have to be jumped through before that happens.

Police arrest bike thieves
A rarely authorised pursuit, involving multiple police vehicles and a helicopter, led to the arrest of two bike thieves

What can cops do?

It’s worth understanding the basics of what conditions the police act under when, sat in the patrol car, they spot a motorcycle-related crime being committed.

Broadly speaking, any officer in charge of a police vehicle who has passed the Police’s Standard/response driving standard can conduct what is called a ‘Follow’ of another vehicle, without requiring authorisation from a senior officer in the Control Room. However, they must conduct a Dynamic Risk Assessment that follows the National Decision Model (I know, right…). This is called the ‘initial phase.’ Bearing in mind that the average pursuit time is just three minutes they have a lot to think about in the first few moments when they spot a bike thief.

During the initial phase, as soon as the target vehicle indicates that they are aware they are being followed and by their actions indicate that they will not stop (following the use of emergency lights and sirens, for example), the Follow becomes a Pursuit which becomes the ’Tactical Phase.’ Some forces do permit non-pursuit trained drivers and motorcyclists to perform forced stops, as long as the Control Room gives permission.

Only tactical phase-trained Advanced Police Drivers, driving a suitably-powered vehicle are allowed to conduct a Pursuit and they normally sit in the Area car – the higher powered BMWs etc you see in many cities or on highways. For many forces that means the officer must be trained in Tactical Pursuit and Containment (TPAC).

The patrol or panda car can follow to a reasonable extent to maintain radio commentary of the offender’s position, but they immediately hand over to the Area car and they may need to have authorisation to follow at speed.

Atom Police car
© Avon and Somerset police. Ironically, these pursuit vehicles are rarely authorised for pursuits

Police vehicles prohibited from conducting a pursuit include personnel carriers and motorcycles ridden by non-response level motorcyclists. So the Community Support Officers issuing parking tickets on a SH125 are out of the running.

Once handed over, the Advanced Driver must obtain permission from the ‘Pursuit Tactical Advisor’ in the Control Room for an authorised Pursuit and, from that moment on, they must provide a running commentary to the Pursuit Commander, who can then call off the pursuit if they feel there is risk of injury or death to a member of the public, the offender or other emergency responders.

The Advanced driver is also expected to call off the Pursuit if they believe the public, the offender or colleagues could be put in danger by the offender’s actions.

Individual forces also apply further restrictions. In 2015 The Met insisted that pursuits could not take place until a helicopter arrived. How is that expected to work..?


Comply, or face possible investigation

Way back in 2011, under approval from the Home Office, the National Police Chiefs Council (or rather its forerunner, ACPO) had made it clear that, “Any incident involving a police vehicle which results in an injury to a member of the public is a matter of great concern, and all are investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. These guidelines for police officers on police pursuits, which have been reviewed with the assistance of the IPCC and now adopted in statute, will ensure consistency and best practice in this area of policing.”

And indeed, every time a pursuit results in a serious injury or death of a member of the public (and also pursued criminals), there is an IPCC investigation, hence the Hicks investigation. The driver can be charged with Dangerous Driving and even the radio operating passenger can be charged with Aiding and Abetting…

The trouble is, the College of Policing and NPCC guidelines themselves now suffer from the laws of unintended consequences. In trying to protect the public, the statutory code of practice on police pursuits is directly leading to the public getting injured by the bike criminals.

The ‘no chase’ guidelines aren’t the full story

In 2009, in a prosecution against an officer for dangerous driving, the judge effectively ruled that all officers had to meet the standard of ‘competent and careful’ as it is used within the Road Traffic Act 1988.

That judgement and the Home Office’s and NPCC’s preference to protect the public from injury is why vehicle pursuits are severely constrained. The Home Office is currently addressing ambiguities raised by the judgement,

However, even after the judgement, officers were still taking risks, believing that the public was better served by catching criminals – ultimately they believed it was better to risk injury to the criminal so they could stop their dangerous behaviour on the streets.

That all seems to have changed since the Hicks case. Many believe that whatever the rights or wrongs, since the very public ‘lynching’ of the officers involved, other officers have been far more reluctant to put their careers and livelihoods at risk. Who could blame them?

In Part 3 of this series you can find out the consequences for one officer who did choose to take the risk, and you’ll perhaps not blame the officers for letting offenders go. It is after all the official policy in many forces.

As motorcyclists are now keenly aware, this situation has been adeptly exploited by the criminal class. Since that case there has been a subsequent explosion in the number of so-called TMAX gangs that have exploited both officers’ reluctance to be prosecuted and the fact there are so few officers who, even if they were prepared to take the risk, have appropriate training and subsequent authorisation to pursue.


Which brings us to the situation today

Recent headlines covered an attack which left a London tourist with a broken leg after he was run over by a moped in a mugging.

In numerous bike-jackings, bikers (still members of the public, remember) have been attacked with knives, hammers and in one case a gun. A rider who attempted to intervene in the theft of a bike from a busy shopping centre was sprayed with acid.

By any measure, it’s reached epidemic level – a rise of 1,500% in motorcycle related crime in London in the past year. Simply because bike-bourne criminals know they have very little chance of being caught.

Moped gang
Cocky. But then they’ve very little chance of being caught

They are highly aware that due to the police cutbacks, there are very few police drivers who are trained to the standard required for an Authorised Tactical Pursuit.

And they know exactly what to do to get such a pursuit ended: by putting a pursuing officer’s career at risk. As soon as the offender puts him or herself at risk of serious injury, by removing their helmet, for example, the pursuit ends. Right there and then.

This, by the way, explains while the bike thieves wear balaclavas even on the hottest Summer’s day – if they need to remove their helmet in a pursuit, the balaclava prevents them from subsequently being identified.

The central problem, and the reason why so many gangs are now operating in so many cities across the UK, is that so few officers are trained to the standard required to not fall foul of official policy, and the law is written so that it offers no protection to an appropriately trained officer anyway.

Light at the end of the legal tunnel?

The situation could get much worse. The Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, is considering writing to every single driving officer in the country to warn them that, despite being highly trained, they are placing themselves in jeopardy when they use that training. In the words of one rep, “It could see officers handing back their keys back in.”

The offending article is the Road Traffic Act, 1988. Emergency drivers, such as police and firefighters, have exemptions from the Act which allows them to go through red lights or use the wrong side of the road.

What they don’t have an exemption from is legislation that covers every driver on the road, Dangerous Driving. Specifically, just like the rest of us, they can be regarded as driving dangerously if,
(a) the way he drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and
(b) it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

And it is that phrase ‘competent and careful’ that the IPCC, the Crown Prosecution Service and lawyers of criminals injured in police pursuits can leap, jump and stamp all over. It means it is so much easier to find an officer guilty of dangerous driving.

So as well as the risk of injury to the public, offenders and the police, the NPCC have to factor in the possibility that their officers can easily be prosecuted for an extremely serious offence.

That’s why the Police Federation has been trying to get the law changed for the last seven years.

Until they do, it doesn’t matter if the Home Office and NPPC do change ‘no chase’ policy. Many officers would be loathed put their careers at risk anyway.

In the next part, we’ll look the devastating effect a prosecution has on an officer, so you can understand exactly why, despite a fierce desire to do so, they now nearly always make the decision to let the thief go.

After which we’ll look at the efforts Pol Fed and the NPCC are making to get the legislation and College of Policing guidance changed, to hopefully bring the epidemic to an end.

In the final part, you’ll see how that can happen much quicker, with your help.


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The motorcycle crime epidemic: The full story

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The bike crime epidemic Part 1: Explaining the explosion in motorcycle related crime

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