The bike crime epidemic Part 4: What it takes to change the ‘no chase’ policy
Even if official Home Office and Police policy on pursuits of motorcycle criminals changes, there remains a problem that will still see many officers reluctant to chase riders driving dangerously. We take a look at what it’s going to take to change that.
Two things kill off a police pursuit of a criminal motorcyclist. The first is the Police Pursuits guidance that officers must follow, which is primarily written from the perspective of protecting the public, offenders and officers from serious injury.
The second is the Road Traffic Act, 1988, legislation under which police officers can be tried as individuals, if, in order to catch criminal driving dangerously, they also drive dangerously themselves.
If an officer ignores the first they can a face a reprimand. If they fall foul of the second, they can end up in prison.
Policy will change
The rules that govern pursuits of motor vehicle by police drivers are governed by the Home Office Code of Practice on the Management of Police Pursuits, the National Police Chief’s Council’s Tactical Pursuit and Containment and the College of Policing (who write the ‘manual’ that officers must follow, the Authorised Professional Practice: commonly referred to as APP). There are also differences between Forces, who can also issue their own policies. That’s clear then…
At the time of writing in July 2017, the good news is that policymakers within the NPCC and the College of Policing are looking to change their guidance, with the support of local Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC’s).
The Home Office and the Attorney General still need to be convinced but people close to both feel it’s only a matter of time.
We don’t currently don’t know if the changes will allow for more officers to have authorisation (unlikely) – all we know right now is that the problem is acknowledged and there are active discussions in trying to get the situation changed.
The bad news is that may take at least a year.
The really bad news is that even then, because of the second issue – the lack of exemption from Dangerous Driving for appropriately trained police officers – there’s little guarantee police officers will anyway want to conduct a chase that could lead to severe legal and disciplinary action.
So-called ‘no chase’
Currently, official police vehicle pursuit policy is centred on protecting the public from injury and when it comes to chasing motorcycles this extends to the offenders too.
As soon as it clear that a motorcycle criminal refuses to stop for the following police vehicle, a pursuit must be authorised by a senior officer in the Control Room and authorisation can only be given to drivers qualified to do so, of which there are very few (likely to be the Area Car only – ‘Pandas/Patrol’ cars drivers do not normally have the right level of training for authorisation). A fuller description of the procedures required for a pursuit is described in Part 2 of this series: Why the police don’t pursue motorcycle criminals.
This chase, at speeds of 140mph plus, involved Advanced drivers. Through the chase, officers relay the risk involved back to the Control Room.
If it becomes clear that during the course of the pursuit that the criminal is putting the public’s or their own life in danger, the pursuit is nearly always called off, although increasingly it is the authorised driver that is given the responsibility for making that call. And herein lies the problem.
If you’ve already read The bike crime epidemic, Part 3: The devastating consequences for police who try to stop bike thieves you’ll hopefully now understand exactly why it is pretty pointless moaning at the inability of individual police officers to chase bike criminals.
There was a phrase within the story from the judge who presided over the officer’s case: “Damned if you didn’t, damned if you did.”
Despite wanting to do their job and chase criminals, the police are often compromised and have to stand down or face the possibility of doing something that could lead to their own prosecution.
The protectors need protection
We were put onto the story of PC James Ellerton by Sgt Tim Rogers of the West Midlands police. He is the Police Federation’s representative in the West Midlands (the Pol Fed is closest the rank and file police have to a union). For seven years he has been aware of the devastating impact the term ‘competent and careful’ has within the section of the Road Traffic Act 1988 that covers Dangerous Driving.
From the College of Policing, APP, Police driving:
The law, as defined in statute by the Road Traffic Act 1988, prohibits dangerous and careless driving. This applies to police officers as well as the public. Police officers must exhibit the care and skill of a competent and careful driver, the standard by which an officer’s driving is judged. This is confirmed by the High Court in the ruling from the case R v Bannister (2009) EWCA Crim 1571.
The court ruled that if the special skill of the driver is taken into account in assessing whether driving is dangerous, then it must follow that the standard being applied is that of the driver with the special skills and not that of the careful and competent driver, as the standard of the careful and competent driver is being modified.
It’s ambiguous at best, and because of this, the Home Office is looking to make the situation clearer.
But in the opinion of Sgt Rogers, because of the risk to the riders and the public, until there is a clear and full exemption for appropriately trained police officers from the term competent and careful, the situation where officers have to immediately cease following and pursuing criminals on motorbikes can’t be resolved.
“Let’s make no bones about it, pursuing determined criminals who are a risk to the public is in itself a risky business. We train people to manage that risk as best as they can and try and apply a proportionate approach so that risk they’re trying to avert isn’t outweighed by the risk that they’re creating. But unfortunately, the legislation as it is currently written does not allow for any deviation from the standard of careful and competent driving.” He continued, “We are expecting officers to go out and do a difficult job, yet the legislation doesn’t give them the protection they deserve.”
He should know. He’s been a road policing officer for “years and years” including a stint as the team lead for the West Midlands Regional Road Death team. In his own force about 150 pursuits are conducted every week of all types of vehicle, not just bikes.
He’s also a biker you’ll be glad to know so he understands it from our side. He’s now on his third SP2 and he still owns a ’98 Hornet he raced in the Hornet Cup. Likes his Hondas, then.
As well as PC Ellerton’s story, Tim told us about other cases, including one involving two officers that is now into its fifth year of investigation and another case where an investigation against an officer has now racked up something like £1.4m of legal costs.
Prosecuting officers is not common, but when it does happen the consequences are damaging to both the officer and the force they serve. And enough to put other officers off risking their own careers.
So, as individual officers can’t be expected to act when they face the possibility not just of losing their job but up to five years in prison following a serious injury in an unauthorised pursuit, what does he think needs to be done?
“Emergency drivers have a number of exemptions from the Road Traffic Act – they can go through red lights, for example. Imagine if, in the course of answering a 999 call a fire engine had to stop at every red light? We are asking that our appropriately trained members are exempted from the requirement to be competent and careful within the Act. The Fire Service are seeking it too. By law, we can’t take industrial action, but that’s not a restriction for the firefighters.”
So it may be that it’s the boys in red that come to our rescue, if they decided to strike to get the legislation changed? “The Fire service really wants to see the legislation changed,” says Sgt Rogers.
Minor change with major consequences
What he’s asking for is actually quite simple. “We’ve worked very hard with the College of Policing to bring in a common standard based on very good training. Now that’s happened it’s only right and proper that this training is reflected in legislation.”
To be clear, he’s not asking for the police to be allowed to drive dangerously, as some more sensationalist media have suggested, but to give appropriately trained officers exemptions from the legislation. And of course an increase in the number of officers with that training. This will swing the odds away from the bike thieves and back in our favour.
Actually, we wouldn’t blame him if he were asking to be allowed to drive in a way that matches a criminal when they are doing anything they can to evade capture. It makes far more sense than the current situation.
Time to act
Why is excepting trained officers from ‘competent and careful’ so important to stopping the bike crime epidemic in its tracks? In fact, why would a biker’s website like Biker & Bike, often so critical of the lacklustre approach to bike crime the police take, be so keen to support the Police Federation in getting the Road Traffic Act changed?
Because if it’s not changed, it doesn’t really matter if the Home Office, the NPCC and the College of Policing, and anyone else, makes changes to the guidelines on pursuits of motorcycles – rank and file officers will still fear prosecution for Dangerous Driving.
The Attorney General, Jeremy Wright MP is aware of the problem but the Government, with many other issues to consider, will only act if they feel it has become important or there is significant pressure on them to do so.
The Police Federation has the ear of Brandon Lewis MP, Minister of State for the Home Office, whose portfolio includes Police & Fire services, but it needs more awareness across both the House of Commons and the House of Lords to get to the point where legislation can be changed.
And that’s where you come in
In the next part of The Bike Crime Epidemic series we’ll set out why it’s so important that you write/email your local MP to make sure, when the matter is put before Parliament to debate, he or she understands the issues and is prepared to let the Police Federation’s suggested amendments to the Road Traffic Act go through.
The final word goes to Tim Rogers: “This is a numbers game and politicians will only act on a problem if enough people tell them to.”