To chase or not to chase?

Police Minister Stuart Nash has asked for an update on the joint review into police chases, which was prompted after a spate of crashes and deaths following police pursuits last year.

This will be a test for Mr Nash, coming after a crash at the weekend resulting in three deaths. The event has been labelled a tragedy for the families and police involved, and it surely is.

Eight people died on New Zealand roads during the weekend. A driver fleeing police near Nelson caused a crash in which three people died.

One of the cars contained an innocent victim who paid with their life for the actions of others. The enormous grief their family and friends must feel, along with some bitterness towards the driver fleeing from the police, will haunt them.

The complaints about police chases have been ongoing. This is not a new phenomenon.

Police chase an average of about 300 fleeing drivers a month. The New Zealand Police and Independent Police Conduct Authority have been reviewing the pursuits. Although fleeing drivers account for a tiny amount of vehicle stops a year, police say they are challenging, dynamic and complex events.

Drivers who choose to undertake high-risk driving behaviour when failing to stop for the police increase the risk to themselves and the public, police say.

There are two diverse opinions on what should happen next.

The most obvious answer, which is widely supported among New Zealanders, is for fleeing drivers to stop when the police flash the red light and indicate they want the driver to stop. However, the complication is many of the fleeing drivers are young teenagers without a licence in many cases. Teenagers are not always known for making the right decisions, even when faced with the possibility of death during a high-speed car journey.

Former National Party police minister Anne Tolley was an advocate of the pursuits not being the problem. Those which started were subject to rigorous risk assessment and New Zealanders have no stomach for a ban, she was quoted as saying last year. Mrs Tolley said people were making the police out to be the bad guys when the people fleeing police were, in fact, the bad guys.

The other school of thought is for police to abandon the chase at the first sign of recklessness from a fleeing driver — or not even start the pursuit in the first place. Advocates urge the taking down of car registration numbers and tracking the offender through various methods before actioning an arrest at home or elsewhere.

It is likely the police know some of the drivers most likely to flee. They will have offended previously. It seems possible the Tasmanian experiment, which identifies the offenders before arresting them with a warrant later, may work here.

Initially, Tasmanian police were totally opposed to the ban on chases. They were faced with young people driving past giving them a finger salute. But gradually, the police came round to thinking innocent lives might be saved by not engaging in risky high-speed pursuits.

There is a third leg to this story no-one seems keen to raise. The young offenders, sometimes barely 13, 14 or 15, presumably have parents who should be providing some sort of control to prevent these unfortunate events.

Mr Nash says fleeing drivers are always a highly challenging law and order event for the police. Police have to make instant decisions based on the circumstances at the time.

New Zealanders are compassionate people but there is a hint of steel in the backbone regarding law and order.

The ongoing deaths of young people through making silly and uncalculated decisions is an issue causing much grief. Lives of young people, who might have eventually contributed to society, are stubbed out.

Having the pursuits overseen by a high-ranking police officer who makes the final call on whether the chase continues seems a good place to start.

 

Comments

The problem with restricting police pursuits, is it can encourage more crime and dangerous driving as it did in Victoria.

When they restricted police pursuits, they had a crime wave of armed robberies, car-jackings, street racing (resulting in deaths), and even cars deliberately ramming police cars.

All because the criminals effectively were given a guarantee they could do anything and drive away without being caught.

Things got so bad so fast that very soon they dropped the pursuit restrictions.

Has anyone in the media in NZ questioned the reason pursuit numbers have gone up year by year might be PRECISELY BECAUSE the police are being more and more restricted, and it's easier to get away?