The Independent Police Conduct Authority has recommended that Police amend their pursuit policy to provide clearer guidance to officers on when a pursuit should be started.
The recommendation is contained in a Review of Police Pursuits, released today. The review analysed 137 pursuits that were reported to the Authority during the five years starting 19 December 2003. During that period, 24 people died and 91 received serious injuries in Police pursuits. About 2000 pursuits take place each year.
Most of the 137 pursuits were started over traffic offending, though 31 were started over known or suspected criminal offending (mostly car conversion and other property offences). Relatively few pursuits uncovered evidence of serious crimes other than those associated with the offender’s driving during the pursuit.
Most of the pursued drivers were young men, many of whom were unlicensed or disqualified and had records of traffic or other offending.
“Pursuits can begin over relatively minor offending, or general suspicion, and end in serious injury or death,” said Authority Chair Justice Lowell Goddard. “In such cases, the benefits from pursuing and stopping an offender do not appear to have outweighed the risks.
“In our view, the Police pursuit policy could provide clearer guidance for officers on when they may pursue. We have recommended that they reconsider the policy, and have suggested that the risk to public safety from not stopping an offender should be the principal factor justifying a decision to pursue.”
The Authority has also recommended that the Police consider requiring that the decision to pursue should be based on known facts, rather than speculating about a driver’s reasons for failing to stop. Drivers who failed to stop may not have committed serious offences, but rather may be committing minor traffic offences and panic when confronted by the Police.
In making these recommendations, the Authority acknowledged the very considerable efforts by Police to improve pursuit policy, management and training in recent years, and also the considerable assistance provided by the Police to the Authority’s review.
“The decision whether or not to pursue a driver who fails to stop is a complex one and must be made quickly and under pressure. It is therefore important for frontline officers that the policy provides clear guidance,” said Justice Goddard.
“It is also important to acknowledge that pursuits start when drivers fail to respect the law and stop for Police. When pursuits end badly, it is those drivers who must bear the responsibility.”