Police knocking suspects off mopeds – is it legal?

Dramatic dashcam footage shows police in London ramming into suspected moped thieves – sending them flying into the air – as their war on crime takes a more hardline approach.

The Home Secretary has voiced his support for the new tactic, calling it “exactly what we need”.

However, many people – including the Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott – have voiced their concerns and raised questions about the legality of the attempting to drive into someone riding a moped.

The Criminal Law Act 1957, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and common law sets out how much force the police can use. The police are entitled to use “reasonable force in all the circumstances”.

The law allows the police to use reasonable force when necessary in order to carry out their role of law enforcement. If this power is believed to have been misused, it can have serious implications for public confidence. This is particularly the case when it appears to have been applied disproportionately or differentially.

In order to be lawful, the force used must be necessary, reasonable, and proportionate in the circumstances as the police officer in question honestly perceived them. In other words, force may be used only where lesser interventions would not have sufficed. The law is well established. The Criminal Law Act 1967, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and common law make it clear that “a person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large”. Inappropriate or excessive use of force may contravene the Human Rights Act 2000. The extent of any force used, must be proportionate to the perceived threat.

The College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice (APP) sets out three questions that police officers should consider when determining when and to what extent they use force:

  • would the use of force have a lawful objective (e.g. the prevention of injury to others or damage to property, or the effecting of a lawful arrest) and, if so, how immediate and grave is the threat posed?
  • are there any means, short of the use of force, capable of attaining the lawful objective identified?
  • having regard to the nature and gravity of the threat, and the potential for adverse consequences to arise from the use of force (including the risk of escalation and the exposure of others to harm) what is the minimum level of force required to attain the objective identified, and would the use of that level of force be proportionate or excessive?

If the police rammed someone from a moped and they became injured (or worse), there is the potential for that officer to face criminal proceedings. There are various potential charges ranging from causing serious injury by careless driving and assault to causing death by dangerous driving and corporate manslaughter.

The court will have to consider the above questions and determine whether or not the force the officer used was reasonable, proportionate and necessary in all the circumstances. The likely argument the prosecution would make, is that it was not necessary for the officer to run someone off his bike at speed, when there is a clear risk of serious injury or death. It would likely be argued that the risk of injury or death far outweighed the objective of apprehending someone suspected of theft and that the officer could have legitimately used other tactics, such as continuing to pursue the suspect or attempt a less risky method of bringing the bike the a halt.

There’s no doubt that public opinion seems to support this new tactic, but a proper legal ruling on its legality will likely not be made until someone is unfortunately seriously injured.