You must be mental

As a motorway patrol officer there is nothing that will get me quicker out of the door than that familiar radio transmission “PEDESTRIAN IN THE CARRIAGEWAY.” As a concern for immediate safety, that run will always be made on blue lights and siren.

Today I will be looking at use of force on the motorway and all that it entails. But also dealing with a mentally ill pedestrian and the issues that present themselves to an officer in this unique environment.

The use of force is covered by several legal acts being Section 3 Criminal Law Act 1967, Section 117 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, Common Law (Breach of the Peace) and Common Law (Self Defence). I don’t propose to go into these, as it will distract from the purpose of this article.

In my humble experience it is safe to assume that pedestrians should not be on the motorway. It is also safe to assume that they should know they should not be on the motorway.
Pedestrians on the motorway usually fall into one of three categories or indeed one or more if not all three.

1. A pedestrian usually from another country who is unaware of the road traffic law.
2. A pedestrian who is intoxicated either through drink or drugs.
3. A pedestrian suffering from a mental illness.

I have to assume on the way to the incident that a reasonable person would not contemplate a foot journey on a fast moving road never intended to cater for pedestrians. I therefore have to assume the potential that the pedestrian is not reasonable in his or her intentions.

I have been to many incidents of pedal cyclists going down the hard shoulder. A drunk vagrant getting lost and ringing the police only to say he was stranded between two busy roads. In fact he was stuck in the central reservation on one of the busiest motorways in the country. I have never have to deal with a pedestrian with mental health problems but I have had to deal with eccentrics.

Tactics to deal with such people are dynamic and robust. They have to be, otherwise we risk their lives and our own. I shall not go into the tactics to capture a pedestrian but I can tell you what we do proceeding the location. Sirens are switched off about a mile to the reported location. Matrix signs have already been set warning other motorists of a pedestrian in the carriageway. A rolling roadblock is put on. The police vehicle will gently weave between the centerlines of lanes one and three and slow the traffic down to a safe speed. The VMS (variable message sign) on the rear of the police vehicle light bar reads “Hold Back.” Once under control the traffic will be slowed down further. This is to give the motorway patrol officer a safety buffer should they have to stop suddenly. The pedestrian is sighted hopefully on the hard shoulder and tactics are implemented to contain the person for his or own safety.

I have to be honest with you. If you are spotted on the hard shoulder you will not be politely asked to get into my vehicle. You will certainly be taken by the arm. And if necessary taken by force. It’s not about being nasty, it’s about that persons personal safety. Before we explore this further take the time to have a look at this:

Nobody had secured the pedestrians, nor ascertained their intentions. Remember what I said; assume an unreasonable state of mind. These Swedish girls, it transpired were impaired through drugs.

And so, quite neatly we come onto the use of force and the problem the motorway patrol officer faces in an environment no one else has to experience.

ACPO guidelines state the following regarding the handcuffing of people

Use of Handcuffs

Any intentional application of force to the person of another is an assault. The use of handcuffs amounts to such an assault and is unlawful unless it can be justified. Justification is achieved through establishing not only a legal right to use handcuffs, but also good objective grounds for doing so in order to show that what the officer did was a reasonable necessary and proportionate use of force.
The following advice and guidance is provided to help clarify these guidelines:

In establishing an objective basis for believing that a detained person may escape or attempt to escape, an officer may obviously react to whatever the prisoner says or does, but need not wait for an actual physical act from the detained person. The officer should take into account the seriousness of the offence for which the prisoner has been detained, as well as the possible punishment the prisoner may expect to receive. Depending on the circumstances, these can include a level of desperation so that an attempt to escape could very well be expected. Previous indications of the detained person’s propensity to escape or attempt to escape from police custody can also be considered to establish reasonable grounds on which to handcuff.

In establishing an objective basis for believing that a detained person should be handcuffed because violence is likely to be used or attempted against the officer or a member of the public, the officer need not wait for an actual physical act in this respect from the detained person. The officer should take into account the actions of the detained person immediately before the detention. If violence had already been displayed, in a physical context or otherwise, in the circumstances that led to the detention, regardless of whether or not the detention was for an offence involving violence, this could constitute adequate objective grounds for handcuffing. Verbal and non-verbal indications from a detained person of a possible likelihood of violence can provide grounds for making an objective decision. When detained person is known or believed to be likely to use violence, based on previous experience of such (perhaps, particularly at the point of arrest or while in custody), this will also assist an officer to develop an objective basis for a decision to use handcuffs.

So clearly ACPO guidelines state that a belief of escape or violence used or expected are grounds to handcuff an individual. Nowhere in the ACPO guidelines is it acceptable to handcuff an individual for there own personal safety. Clearly you see the problem for the motorway patrol officer, whose only intention is to secure the safety of a pedestrian.

Now add into the mix the scenario of a mentally ill pedestrian. A police officer can section a person in a public place under section 136 MHA. The rules of reasonable force still apply though. How is a patient transported to a place of safety? Ideally by ambulance but there may not be one available and lets just say for arguments sake I am single crewed. Do I get a section van to pick up my detainee? A section van driver who has no experience of policing the motorway and comes to a full stop in the live lane. Yep, I’ve seen it happen.

The motorway is a dangerous environment. It’s the little things that will catch you out.

@NathanConstable a serving Police Inspector tweeting and blogging on general police duties and issues of mental health generously opines.

You have identified another area where there are gaps. Mentally distressed people on the motorway.

If a situation arises such as that in the video you will be using one of four pieces of legislation:

1. Section 136 MHA
2. Breach of the Peace
3. Obstruction of the Highway
4. Road Traffic Act

Force can be used in all of these circumstances if necessary but given the summary nature of obstruction offences you have to consider the proportionality.

There is no authority for officers to use force to protect someone from themselves.

In the circumstances here the action taken to restrain the individuals is as much about protecting others from their actions.

In a situation such as that it would be nice to think “I have the power to do something about this” without having to think about it too much – as you would with a theft or assault.

The risk factors presented by a situation like this on a motorway are very high indeed. For the individual, the officers and other drivers.

It needs to be dealt with very quickly indeed. I would therefore argue that officers are on relatively safe ground using appropriate and proportional force to manage any situation such as this – providing an arrest is made at the time. I think the Necessity Test would be passed where someone was continuing to cause danger (further offences.)

The issue of transport is not unique to motorways but the risks are magnified considerably. As is the need to clear the scene rapidly – which potentially competes with detainee safety.

As is the issue of the type of response sent in the first place. Is it appropriate to send a single crewed RPU vehicle to “pedestrian in the carriageway” calls?

What if it turns into the situation like the one in the video. What is the likelihood of that happening and is a hard stop better than a rolling stop?

Difficult questions which need to be factored into the reckoning as it is another environment in which police may be required to deal with a mental health issue and is possibly one of the most dangerous of all.


2 thoughts on “You must be mental

Add yours

  1. Car on outside lane of motorway today ran into car in front and then stopped. Husband in another car had seen it happen, pulled onto hard shoulder and came running back, trying to run across 2 lanes of traffic plus the 3rd, now at a standstill and causing more shunts. Total nightmare.

  2. Good interesting post Dave. I had seen video before but still scares the hell out of you. Public don’t realise the strength people on drugs can have and the imperviousness to pain. I have been in that position man years ago and it’s scary.

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