Police pursuit policy could create more chases
More young drivers will attempt to escape police under tough new guidelines for police officers involved in high speed pursuits, the police officers' union says.
The new policy, which follows a spate of fatal crashes including the death of a speeding motorcyclist and an innocent teenage driver last year, takes effect today.
The policy puts safety before "immediate" capture of dangerous drivers, establishes clear lines of command in pursuits and says police must slow down and turn off their lights and sirens as soon as they are told to abandon pursuit.
However Police Association president Greg O'Connor said today although the policy was aimed at protecting innocent motorists it could have the opposite effect.
Mr O'Connor said the policy could actually have the effect of creating more police chases.
"Young offenders in fast cars know they only have to plant boot to get away. That might mean you will get more people trying it on," he told NZPA.
He said there were some indications that was already happening.
"Officers are telling me that in some areas that is already the case."
He said while there were inherent risks in high speed chases there were also risks in not chasing dangerous drivers.
"Safety is what this business is about, but is it safer to let someone who has come to your attention because of their dangerous driving to continue driving dangerously? Or is it safer to pursue them and hopefully stop them."
Mr O'Connor said the argument that police pursuing a vehicle could merely take the registration number of a dangerous driver then apprehend them the next day was flawed.
"It then becomes a resource issue. You need people to then follow up the next day and rather than a straight apprehension you have to mount an investigation."
He said resources would have to be used in locating the car owner, then it would be difficult to prove who was actually driving the car.
While all this was achievable if the resources were available, no new resources were being promised to back up the new policy.
He said the policy was partly a knee-jerk reaction to high profile police chases that had ended in death either for the person trying to escape police, or innocent drivers.
However he said every year dozens of other people died as a result of unapprehended dangerous drivers, but those cases did not grab the same headlines.
"You could potentially have the situation where there will be more deaths as a result of dangerous drivers, because they are not being apprehended."
Under the policy police chases will be controlled by a supervisor in a police communications centre.
Mr O'Connor said while that established clear lines of control there would be strong incentives for the controller to call off the chase.
"They have everything to lose and very little to gain from a chase like this."
However the Automobile Association (AA) today welcomed the new policy saying that overall it would protect innocent motorists.
Public affairs director George Fairbairn said the AA recognised there were cases where pursuits were required, but in many cases there were other options available.
"In many of these chases in the past they've gone on for longer than they probably should of because of that ability for a more individual decision to be made on the part of an officer on where and when it should stop," he told NZPA.
Mr Fairbairn said some people would undoubtedly try and flout the law as a result of the new policy, but overall the new procedures would ensure the safety of innocent motorists.
"The overriding concern has to be 'is a pursuit really necessary?' and are there other means to stop that person doing what they are doing and apprehending them.
"At the end of the day We have to limit the occasions where innocent people can be unnecessarily killed as a result of a pursuit."
The new police guidelines follow a review which took into account the death of 18-year-old Erin Burgess, who was hit by a motorcyclist chased by police near Whangarei last May.
The police chase was seriously criticised by the Northland Coroner. After the inquest the coroner urged changes in pursuit policy and in police attitudes, recommending chases be limited to a few kilometres near built-up areas.
Announcing the changes yesterday, Assistant Police Commissioner Peter Marshall said the "stringent" revised policy emphasised the responsibility of police for the safety of public and staff.
The new policy states that:
* public and staff safety takes priority over immediate apprehension of a suspect;
* officers must decide whether a pursuit can be justified and work with their shift supervisor to re-evaluate the safety risk throughout the pursuit;
* supervisors at police communications centres have authority to order a pursuit be abandoned; and
* when abandoning a chase, officers must immediately turn off lights and sirens, reduce speed to within the limit and then stop their vehicle on the roadside. All police cars involved must stop chasing the suspect.
The Whangarei chase is also being re-investigated by Christchurch Detective Superintendent Malcolm Burgess after some of the coroner's findings differed from the initial police investigation.
New Zealand First's law and order spokesman, Ron Mark, said he agreed with police officers who were sceptical about the policy.
"Many young offenders are already taking advantage of perceived weaknesses within the police force not to pursue offenders at speed," he said.
"The new policy is a reaction to the run of fatal accidents that police have been involved in recently, but sadly all it is going to do is give boy racers more opportunity to bait officers knowing the pursuit will be called off."