Time to stop police chases

Nobody could call me a sopping wet liberal, but if there is one thing I would like to see less of, it is young people being killed in police chases. It happens all too often, and while I’m not saying the perpetrators are in the right, it is a one-sided situation which all too often ends in disaster for one or more young people and their families.

Police Minister Stuart Nash got it spot-on in the immediate aftermath of the triple fatality crash near Nelson on Sunday morning when he said it was a tragedy both for the families of those who died, and the officers involved.


Unsurprisingly, the focus since the tragedy has shifted quickly onto the guidelines around police pursuits.

Police Tasman district commander Mike Johnson was understandably quick to point to the “very stringent procedures” governing when police pursued a vehicle. However, as a police statement on Sunday pointed out, such incidents are “fast-moving, unpredictable and high pressure situations that require quick judgments”, so the time available to put those procedures into practice is severely constrained.

What you have here is a situation where police, who are trained to drive in pursuits, are chasing young people with very limited driving experience, in what is probably an unfamiliar or unsafe car. The odds are stacked against the fleeing drivers, and it is not surprising that they end in tragedy so often.

Nash has already asked for an update on progress in a joint investigation between the New Zealand Police and the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), which investigates pursuits notified to it, usually those involving death or serious injury. A report is due in late 2018.

That review was started in July, though news of it seems only to have been made public in November, after a month in which three people had died in two separate pursuits in Auckland. A joint statement from the agencies at the time said there was an average of 300 pursuits a month.

Great. It sounds as if we are lucky to have as few fatalities as we do.

In late October, after a man and a woman died and three others were seriously injured when a car being pursued by police hit a tree in the Auckland suburb of Morningside, road safety campaigner Clive Matthew-Wilson said police had to stop “this cowboy posse attitude that we must pursue at all costs” because it was costing multiple lives, many of them “completely innocent people”, like the third person killed on Sunday.

He told RNZ some Australian states had restricted police pursuits, with a resultant significant drop in death toll, citing the example of Queensland, which he said had seen no pursuit deaths in six years as a result.

I don’t dispute that, in most of these cases, the responsibility lies with the fleeing driver, but many of them do pay a terrible price for a relatively minor offence. And in the cases where a completely innocent person is killed, such as a passenger in a fleeing car, there can be no justification for their tragic end.

The police can do things differently if they want to. Too many young people are being killed unnecessarily. I say #timesup for police pursuits.



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Accountant. Boring. Loves tax. Needs to get out more. Loves the environment, but hates the Greens. Has been called a dinosaur. Wears it with pride.

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