Police revise policies on car keys as result of Gore chase

Police have implemented policy changes following a dramatic police chase and manhunt in Gore last year.

Findings from the Independent Police Conduct Authority showed the removal of keys from the ignition of a patrol car when an officer got out of it would have prevented the theft of the car and of two Glock pistols.

It also states the officer who left them there did not breach any policy.

On August 14, two police officers attempted to speak to a driver, Hori Gemmell, after they spotted a car that was missing its front grille and number plate.

However, when the officers reached him, Gemmell ran on to a residential property. Both officers attempted to catch him but Gemmell evaded them before locking himself in the empty police car — in which the keys had been left.

The report quoted one of the officers who recalled the moment.

"It was at this point I ran my hand over my vest and with horror, realised that I had left the keys to the police vehicle inside it".

Subsequently, Gemmell stole the car and pistols before he rammed another police car; a backup vehicle that had been called by the first two officers.

The officers tried to stop him from taking the car — one officer smashed the driver’s window and the other used their Taser twice. However, due to Gemmell wearing a puffer jacket, the Taser had no effect.

The tasering was deemed a reasonable use of force in the circumstances.

When the second pair of officers were told by radio by the first officers that Gemmell had taken the police car, it was not communicated clearly and, as such, they were initially unaware the police car they were looking at was in fact not occupied by their colleagues.

"As Officers C and D approached the intersection with Broughton Street, they saw the stolen patrol car stopped at the intersection with its lights flashing and siren sounding. They could not see inside it. Officer C was driving, and she stopped short of the intersection.

"Mr X drove the patrol car slowly across the intersection and into Waimea Street. Officers C and D followed, now more suspicious that it had in fact been stolen."

When the car stopped shortly after, the officers believed he was about to run off on foot; instead, he rammed their car and drove off. He abandoned the police car but took the guns with him.

"The car lights and siren were still activated and there was no sign of Mr X. When Officer A looked inside the car, he saw that the pistol lock box was open, with the keys in the lock, and both pistols missing."

A manhunt was soon launched and he was arrested three days later. One of the police Glock pistols was recovered at the time of his arrest. The other Glock pistol was recovered three months later after further investigation.

In March this year, Gemmell was jailed for three years and one month.

Southern District Commander Superintendent Paul Basham said it was an unexpected and fast-moving situation, and since then, changes had been made to help stop this type of incident from happening again.

A national instruction now requires officers to remove keys from an unoccupied vehicle, and a training package on vehicle security is being developed for all front-line staff.

Southern District Police also undertook a review of its practices and has made improvements to the manual handling of car and gun safe keys.

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