Police pursuit policy belongs in another century, says safety campaigner

The police need to modify their policy on pursuits, says the car review website dogandlemon.com.

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, who is an outspoken road safety campaigner, was commenting after the second fatal police chase in Auckland in a fortnight.

 Two people died and two others were seriously injured in the latest incident.

Matthew-Wilson says the New Zealand Police are following ‘last century’ policies that often result in needless carnage.

According to the American FBI, it’s a myth that abandoning police pursuits lets criminals get away.”

The FBI says: “research has shown that if the police refrain from chasing all offenders or terminate their pursuits, no significant increase in the number of suspects who flee would occur.”

Matthew-Wilson says New Zealand should also learn from Australia’s experience. Many Australian states ban or restrict police chases, except in emergencies. These policies are often hated by frontline police, but have proven results.

Between 2000 and 2011, there were 19 deaths associated with police chases in Queensland.

Since restrictions on police chases were put in place six years ago, there have been no deaths associated with police pursuits.

The Queensland pursuits policy states that pursuits are “inherently dangerous” and should only be undertaken if those fleeing are an “imminent threat to life” or involved in a serious offence.

The Australian state of Victoria has a similar policy. Victorian head of road policing, Assistant Commissioner Doug Fryer, rejected the idea that the state’s cautious pursuit policy meant criminals ‘got away with it.’

“we would far prefer to drag an offender out of bed at six o'clock in the morning than try to drag them out of a car after a crash."

Multiple studies have shown that most offenders fleeing from police are “likely to be male…younger, and much more likely to be intoxicated or test positive for drugs

Matthew-Wilson says it’s pointless for the police to try and lecture young offenders on the risks of fleeing police:  

“These guys are idiots, and they’re often blotto as well. They don’t think of consequences  – they get a rush of adrenaline and just take off at high speed.”

“These fleeing drivers aren’t going to stop and think about what they’re doing, so it’s up to the police to use their heads instead.”

“The police have other options: they can use surveillance cameras, helicopters, road spikes, or simply notify other police cars and quietly pursue the fleeing vehicle at a distance.”

Matthew-Wilson believes technology can help prevent high-risk drivers getting behind the wheel of a car.

Matthew-Wilson says:

The recent death of Morocco Tai in a police pursuit highlights serious deficiencies in the way in which the criminal bail system is administered.”

“Tai was facing multiple charges from previous car chases, yet was not under supervision at the time of his final offending.”

“Surely he should have been bailed to a safe address, and forced to wear an electronic bracelet.  If his bail had been electronically monitored, there’s a good chance he would have been picked up by police when he went missing from his address, before he had a chance to reoffend.”

American police are experimenting with electronic GPS tags that are fired from the fronts of police vehicles and which attach themselves to a fleeing vehicle, allowing the police to drop back from the chase and arrest the suspects later.

In February 2013, the Austin Police Department outfitted 10 of its vehicles with StarChase launchers. Since then, the department fired the electronic trackers 47 times, resulting in 44 suspect apprehensions — and only one vehicle crash.

Matthew-Wilson is in favour of such devices, but warns:

“Many chases are over in a few seconds, including the fatal ones. It’s probably time the police started assuming that high risk offenders are going to flee when a cop car orders the driver to pull over. That way, wherever possible, before the flashing light goes on, there can be several more police cars waiting to box in the offender before he has a chance to run.”

“It’s a myth that aggressive police pursuits catch the bad guys. There are always criminals who will run and there are always a number who will escape, regardless of the police pursuit policy. However, the evidence is really clear: aggressive police pursuits frequently end in death or injury. And it’s not just the guilty who get hurt.”