Dumb Criminal of the Week: The Guy Who Tried to Outrun the Cops on a Very, Very Slow-Moving Moped

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Feb. 28 2013 12:50 PM

Dumb Criminal of the Week: The Guy Who Tried to Outrun the Cops on a Very, Very Slow-Moving Moped

Moped
Two men, one moped.

Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

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Crime: Driving while disqualified, dangerous driving.

Fatal mistake: Fundamentally misunderstanding the dynamics of a successful police chase.

The details: Phillips, a 22-year-old roofer from southwestern England, is what the British might call a yob. He’d previously been deemed a “disqualified driver,” meaning that his license had been revoked for recklessness or stupidity. This didn’t stop him from riding his crappy second-hand moped around Bristol. Phillips was doing so one afternoon when he saw the police approaching. He decided to flee, and he decided to do so on that same crappy second-hand moped, which apparently topped out at 15 miles per hour.

Give Phillips this much: He did his best to make it a real chase, riding onto sidewalks and swerving in and out of traffic. (He also apparently slowed down for speed bumps—no sense in damaging the scooter’s undercarriage!) This might have worked if his pursuers were traveling on, say, unicycles. Unfortunately, they were in cars—four of them, as well as a police helicopter—and a moped cannot outrun a car, unless we’re talking about one of those foot-powered cars from The Flintstones. After about a mile, Phillips realized the futility of it all and pulled over to wait for his inevitable arrest.

“He panicked and behaved in a really stupid way. He was going to get caught,” Phillips’ attorney told the court, presumably while sighing in bemusement. “It was, perhaps, more stupid than dangerous under the circumstances.” The judge apparently agreed. Phillips was given a suspended sentence and 100 hours of community service, banned from driving for three years, and ordered to complete a “thinking skills” program. Let’s hope the program includes coursework in such crucial areas as “how to understand a speedometer” and “how to tell when you’re making a really, really bad decision.”

How he could have been a lot smarter: He could’ve stayed put. Look, I get that people act on instinct, but, generally, you will never succeed in out-motoring the police unless you’ve got one of those Fast and the Furious cars, in which case you are honestly probably better off in police custody than in the hands of that maniac Johnny Tran.

How he could have been a little smarter: OK, you’ve decided to flee. Your only option is a very slow moped. Well, you’ve got to give yourself an edge somehow. How about scattering some sharp rocks or thumbtacks in your wake, in hopes of popping your pursuers’ tires?

How he could have been a little dumber: Ditched the moped for a shopping cart. Or a pogo stick. Or a coin-operated pony that bobs up and down outside the grocery store.

How he could have been a lot dumber: “And I’ll drape this heavy velvet cloth over my head so the cops won’t be able to see me, either!”

Ultimate Dumbness Ranking (UDR): “You normally expect a bit of drama when the helicopter's up and you hear there's a chase on,” one police officer told the media after Phillips’ trial. “But this was more like a guided tour. On that moped he was going nowhere fast.” You know you’ve done something stupid when even the cops are cracking wise at your expense. Fleeing the police because you’re driving on a suspended license is like declaring bankruptcy because you have a library fine. 7 out of 10 for James Phillips.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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