Police Continue To Ignore Their Own Pursuits Policy
A police crash during a pursuit in Masterton in the early hours of Wednesday morning suggests the police are simply ignoring their own pursuits policy, says the car review website dogandlemon.com.
Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, who is an outspoken road safety campaigner, says the police often say one thing but do another.
“If you read police press releases, they always pursue vehicles in a safe manner and quickly abandon the chase if significant risk is involved. In reality, the police policy on pursuits has barely changed since the nineteenth century. Worse, multiple police chases end in serious crashes and deaths, often of innocent people."
“In this latest pursuit, two police cars chased a speeding black Ford Territory vehicle around Masterton for 'some distance' before one of the police cars crashed. It’s a miracle no one was killed. The police have not released any credible evidence that this was more than a routine traffic stop, yet they escalated the situation to the point where a serious crash occurred. This is madness."
Matthew-Wilson points out that the FBI’s experts disagree with the current New Zealand police policy.
The science is quite clear: if you want to halt the flood of deaths during police pursuits, then restrict police pursuits to genuine emergencies.”
"Most fatal pursuits start from a relatively minor violation and quickly escalate into a major catastrophe. The FBI has made it perfectly clear that many police chases are not necessary and that such pursuits place the public at considerable risk."
Matthew-Wilson believes New Zealand needs to follow the example of several Australian states and ban police chases except in extreme emergencies.
Between 2005 and 2008, Queensland suffered 10 deaths in police pursuits, including 13-year-old Caitlin Hanrick, who died during a pursuit outside her school.
Since Queensland police stopped chasing criminals for minor violations, there have been no deaths during pursuits.
Queensland Assistant Commissioner Mike Keating was quoted as saying that the police quietly track down offenders “after the emotion and the euphoria of the time has settled down”.
In 2019, the New Zealand Children's Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft, also called for police to no longer pursue vehicles in which young people are, or may be reasonably thought to be, travelling, after the driver fails to stop.
"This is particularly driven by the brain development science relating to young people, the number of fatalities resulting from police pursuits in New Zealand and the persuasive evidence from Queensland."
Matthew-Wilson says it's wrong to assume that police are letting offenders 'get away with it' by avoiding a police pursuit. According to the FBI:
"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 adds that its pointless expecting teenagers to think logically.
"The simple fact is: the part of the brain that allows an adult to make rational decisions doesn't form properly until the early twenties. That's why teenagers tend to make impulsive decisions that often end badly. Given that teenagers aren't going to stop and think, it's up to the cops to stop and think, instead of letting adrenaline rule their decisionmaking process."
Matthew-Wilson says there will always be a need for police pursuits, but these should be restricted to genuine emergencies.
"If, say, someone is being murdered, obviously the police need to take immediate action. However, FBI studies have shown that it's often better for the police to pull back and let the offender think he's got away, then quietly move in later. This minimises the risk to the police, the public and also the dickhead who's trying to outrun the police."
• Clive Matthew-Wilson has been actively campaigning on road safety and consumer issues for 25 years. Mentored by engineer Chris Coxon (former technical chair and founding member of the Australian New Car Assessment Program – ANCAP), Matthew-Wilson was the first person to publish crash test results in New Zealand. His research into seatbelt upgrades was awarded by the Australian Police Journal. Matthew-Wilson is a strong supporter of pedestrians’ and cyclists’ rights and has helped shape many major road safety policies in New Zealand.
Clive was the founder of constitution.org.nz