It sounds a little like an EMP weapon brought straight out of The Matrix but in fact the device being developed by European engineers is far closer to becoming fact than science fiction.
The ‘remote stopping device’ would supposedly give police officers using it the ability to disable the engine of a suspect’s auto-mobile at the flick of a switch. Thus far details are sketchy regarding its practical capabilities and limitations regarding range, effectiveness and so on but the prospect of such a tool has been enough to turn heads already.
A confidential document being prepared by a committee of senior EU police officers outlines the developing theory behind its appropriate use as well as guidelines for its safe deployment. The device’s development has been in response to the rising number of incidents where suspects attempt to flee from police officers, risking their lives as well as the safety of public motorists and bystanders.
A report from The Daily Telegraph has suggested that we could potentially see this device fitted to specially designed police cars by the end of the decade. It outlines how the suspect’s vehicle is brought to a halt by cutting off its fuel supply and blocking its ignition.
While the proposed scheme has many supporters who can readily envisage its potential for saving lives, there is also a growing wellspring of suspicion that such technology could be used to impinge on civil liberties by placing too much power in the hands of the authorities.
Jumping straight to a worst case scenario, Conservative MP David Davis voiced his concerns over the device’s application: “I would be fascinated to know what the state’s liability will be if they put these devices in all vehicles and one went off by accident whilst a car was doing 70mph on a motorway with a truck behind it resulting in loss of life.”
This was the recurring theme when opposition was voiced regarding the scheme, as its detractors considered the potential for accidental activation or negligent misuse that could result in collisions of significant proportions. Statewatch, a watchdog that monitors police powers in Europe, has demanded unambiguously clear guidelines on how police would make use of the system and how circumstances would guide them to that decision.
However, the system’s supporters have correctly highlighted just how dangerous it can be to pursue a suspect fleeing in a vehicle at high speed. Suspects routinely take major risks while attempting to outrun the authorities, disregarding the safety of everyone around them in their desperation to escape. Many calculating criminals also know full well that police will break off their pursuit if they consider it too dangerous and will unscrupulously use that knowledge against their pursuers.
The application of such a device could defuse such situations before they develop into a life-threatening chase. Click here to follow the debate on the system’s potential as well as its pitfalls.
The debate is ongoing and it could still be some time before any resolution is reached on whether or not British police officers will be given the green light to employ this new technology. However, its full development is still years in the making – including a lengthy period of rigorous field testing – so there remains plenty of time for the appropriate parties to mull over the decision.
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