The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that a Police officer should not have tried to stop or pursue a car thought to contain young people in Palmerston North on 28 May 2018. The pursuit ended when the fleeing car crashed into a ditch. The driver, Mr X (aged 15) and passenger, Ms Z (aged 12) were killed. Another passenger (aged 16) was seriously injured.
At about 12.49pm, Police were informed that Mr X, driving a blue car, had picked up some girls from the Highbury Whānau Centre. The witness provided the car's registration details and advised that it was probably stolen.
An officer decided to go out and look for the car. He was aware that Mr X was known to steal cars, had a number of current charges outstanding, and had breached conditions of his electronic bail. The officer rang three other officers, including a Youth Aid officer, to ensure they were aware of the incident.
At about 1.29pm, the officer spotted the car in a residential street, but could not positively identify the people inside. The driver of the car immediately accelerated away. The officer signalled the driver to stop, then began to pursue it along Monrad Street and onto Pioneer Highway.
The car continued to accelerate along Pioneer Highway for approximately 2.5 kilometres before disappearing around a slight bend. When the officer rounded the bend several seconds later, he saw that the car had crashed. The officer and bystanders assisted the occupants.
The Authority found that the officer did not make appropriate risk assessments before signalling the driver to stop, commencing the pursuit or continuing to pursue the car. It was highly likely that the driver was Mr X, who was known to flee and was very motivated to avoid being taken into custody. It was also likely that there were other young people in the car.
Mr X posed a significant risk to himself and others in a pursuit situation. Without appropriate resources or planning in place, the risks of a pursuit clearly outweighed the need to urgently apprehend Mr X and recover stolen property.
"The recently released results of the joint review of fleeing driver events conducted by the Authority and New Zealand Police concluded that a risk-averse approach to fleeing driver events needs to be embedded into staff mind-set when it comes to managing fleeing driver events. In the Authority's view, this incident demonstrates this very point. If the officer's training and consequent approach had been risk-averse, this outcome might have been avoided" said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.