Police pursuits. A historical look

Bad boys, bad boys, who EWE gonna call?

It seems it’s that time of the year again when all the luvvies have their annual hand-wringing over police pursuits. The cries are always the same. ‘We must stop the carnage’, ‘Police should never chase’, ‘Just get their rego number and follow it up later’, ‘Get a helicopter to chase them’ etc etc.

There will be another review released today. What amazing way will they come up with now to protect the public from those crazed cops who supposedly want nothing more than to find any excuse to hoon about the city putting those poor offenders at risk?

Well I can pretty safely say that nothing will change, certainly nothing that will work positively. The ‘police should never chase brigade’, never see futher than the immediate risk to other people. Nothing is worth the risk they say, and they always seem to come up with ridiculous options that will never work in the real world such as getting drones to follow them!

The truth is that over the last few decades, the New Zealand Police pursuit policy has been well and truly locked down to the ‘Abandon pursuit when it gets unduly dangerous to the public’ mantra. The crims know this. Even the young teens that are out there nightly trying to initiate pursuits for fun know this and I have seen it myself on many occasions.

I started in the Ministry of transport way back in 1988. Pursuits back then were just as common as they are now. Infact, I got into a pursuit on my third day on the job after a trailbike rider pulled a wheelie through an intersection right in front of me. I was so green that I didn’t even know how to use the siren in the Ford Telstar that I was driving. I probably put the public at risk.

But we got our man without incident and over the years, I was involved in literally hundreds of pursuits. Plenty of them resulted in the offender crashing, but not once was an innocent party involved, and not once was anybody killed, or even seriously injured. Luck would have played a massive part in that though.

There wasn’t much in the way of a pursuit policy back then. We used to get the ridiculous scenario where we would sometimes have a dozen or so patrol vehicles casually following along behind the pursuit, just for fun.

That sort of rubbish quite rightly had to change and did so. Following various policy readjustments over the years, many of those changes have made the pursuits safer for the public. Correspondingly though, many of those changes have just created the situation where offenders are encouraged to flee.

One of the worst situations we had back in the late 80’s or early 90’s came about as a result of what became known as ‘The Posse Incident’. Some of my colleagues had pursued a crim to his home address. He was quite rightly placed under arrest on the footpath but he managed to jump the fence into his yard, then ran inside. He was quite rightly followed inside and apprehended there. Unfortunately, a weak minded Judge decided that a man’s house was his castle and he should have been left there so let him off.

This resulted in a precedent being set and we were all advised that pending appeal [which was ultimately successful], we were not allowed to chase people onto private property.

Literally overnight, this created the situation where offenders would choose to run as a matter of course. We started having pursuits every night, often two or three pursuits per shift. This carried on for a few months until a law change was rushed through, allowing people to be pursued onto private property under certain circumstances.

Oddly enough, I believe I had the first arrest under this new law at 12.04am on the day it came into force. The Harley riding gang member, when asked why he had fled, stated that he had wanted to be the first person to be arrested on private property under the new law! He got his wish. Sometimes you just can’t fix stupid.

With the introduction of the new law, things went back to normal, again pretty much overnight, and we were back to the normal one pursuit a week kind of ratio that we had previously had.

So what will come of this latest review? Seriously I don’t think there will be much. The rules are pretty tight at the moment. Hell I was once pulled out of a failing to stop pursuit by a manager in the Comms centre because the driver was going 130kmh on the Gibston Highway near Arrowtown, a dead straight road, with minimal traffic around. My comment at the time would get me banned from here but suffice to say I wasn’t most pleased since that speed wasn’t even outside of instant fine range! The fact that he was going slower than I had initially checked him at seemed to be overlooked by that particular Comms boss who was as risk averse as the best of them.

So there will likely be some fiddling around the edges but at the end of the day, there will be no real change in the number of pursuits or the mentality of the people initiating them because they all know that the worse they drive, the more likely they will get away.