Cops developing Ghostbusters-esque weapon to take out e-bike thugs

'Who you gonna call?' Dunno, my phone's been stolen

British police officers are setting their phasers to stun in response to an explosion in scooter and electric bike-based crime.

In the wretched hives of scum and villainy that are the UK's large towns and cities, petty crooks are increasingly upgrading to the nimble vehicles to better snatch phones or other belongings from the hands of oblivious innocents.

It's legal to ride an e-bike without a license in the UK if it's pedal assisted, has a maximum power output of 250 watts, and is capped at 15.5 mph (25 kph). It's this very silence and speed that makes them the getaway of choice for robberies. The problem is now so prevalent that London's Metropolitan Police has issued guidance on how to avoid becoming a victim.

Likewise, e-scooters have been involved in 20,000 crimes over the past three years. Unlike e-bikes, though, privately owned vehicles are illegal to ride on public highways and byways – a fact seemingly lost on the parents who zip their kids to school on them. Nevertheless, there are some 750,000 in sheds and garages around the UK.

So how does the plod intend to combat this growing menace? We find it hard to imagine that even London's finest could reach and maintain sprinting speeds in excess of 15.5 mph.

According to The Guardian, the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) is working with the government's Defence Science and Technology Lab (Dstl) to develop a weapon of sorts that would disable the vehicles with electromagnetic pulses.

To deploy another hackneyed '80s movie reference, the device is being likened to the backpacks worn by the Ghostbusters.

NPCC chair Gavin Stephens told media: "Basically, it interferes with the electric motor, to trick the electric motor into thinking it is overheating. It sends a signal to confuse the electric motor. All these electric motors apparently have an inbuilt safety system that if it thinks it's overheating, it shuts down. At the minute, it's like a ginormous backpack."

Under the oversight of the NPCC's chief scientific adviser, cops aim to have a weapon that is harmless to humans and other electronic devices. Because you don't want to accidentally brick a Tesla in the act of disabling a crook on an e-scooter, though there's a strong argument to be made that this counts as acceptable collateral damage.

Less acceptable would be to zap an elderly person with a pacemaker.

A victim of the crime told The Register: "From my London experience as a victim of phone theft by an e-bike and having witnessed it happen to others, I welcome this if it ends up being a practical 'hit of a button' solution and the motor shuts down. However, if they have to charge/setup the EMP and if the range is short, given how swift these criminals are on their e-wheels, this might not be effective at all.

"Even then I doubt it will help with the overall issue, though, as that seems to stem mainly from a lack of policing and lack of measures dealing with these criminals when caught."

Indeed. For this to work, we have to assume that it A) makes it out of the lab, and B) the police can be bothered to investigate the crime in the first place. Also, how likely is it that an e-bike thug will snatch a phone in plain sight of an officer wielding the equipment? Though we suppose it is encouraging that they are looking into countermeasures. ®

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