In recent years there has been a reduction of crime in the United Kingdom. This is a tribute to the police who have embraced reform and achieved this success despite falling budgets. It also reflects well on Theresa May who as Home Secretary cut back on much of the red tape.
Yet the police are still far too constrained when fighting crime. There is still the ridiculous prohibition on Police Community Support Officers from arresting people under any circumstances – while even the general public have the power to carry out a citizen’s arrest.
In London there is a particular problem which is causing great difficulty. There has been a sharp increase in the theft of motor vehicles. The main cause is that large number of mopeds are being stolen. These are then used to carry out further crimes – for instance being used for a quick getaway after street robberies.
The problem is that as the culprit is not wearing a helmet the police are under instructions not to pursue them for health and safety reasons. Of course there is some balance to be maintained. The pursuit policy for the Metropolitan Police takes account of risks to members of the public, those being pursued, and the officers pursuing them.
In 2015/16 there were 22,232 thefts of motor vehicles in London. That was already up on the previous couple of years. But the figures for recent months suggest there will be a sharp increase for 2016/17.
The BBC reports:
“Internal Scotland Yard statistics show there have been 7,668 crimes involving mopeds to date in 2016 – up from 1,053 in the whole of 2014 and 4,647 in the whole of 2015.”
Four police officers in Islington are facing gross misconduct hearings after an “unauthorised pursuit”. The Independent Police Complaints Commission are pursuing two police drivers and two radio operators, who were passengers in the unmarked cars. Henry Hicks, 18, died when trying to flee from police. He was found to be carrying seven bags of skunk cannabis and multiple phones.
Of course, any deaths or injuries during a police chase are deeply regrettable. But the best health and safety policy is not to resist arrest. Certainly risk must be considered – but to do his job a police officer needs to be trusted to use his best judgment. A “risk assessment” will sometimes need to take a split second – not some prolonged bureaucratic exercise – otherwise the culprit can escape and remain a menace to the rest of us. The risk needs to be balanced. But when there is not even an attempt to catch the criminals then the risk is not properly balanced. Society is being endangered. Ultimately more male teenagers will lose their lives if criminal gangs are left to grow unhindered.
So the “pursuit policy” needs to be clarified. Given there is a particular problem in London, perhaps changes in legislation are not needed – just better guidance from the Mayor of London. Either way, brave police officers need to be confident that they have the support of the authorities in catching criminals. At present that is far from clear.