NZ Police pursuits keep killing people
Every couple of years or so, a police pursuit hits the headlines because people died. It generally prompts criticism of police pursuits, sometimes including suggestions that they do more harm than good, which in turn prompts defences of the practice. There's sometimes a review involved, and occasionally recommendations come out of that. But one thing seems to remain certain: in another year or two, the whole thing will repeat.
In 2009, the Independent Police Conduct Authority reviewed 137 pursuits that resulted in deaths and injuries over a period of five years. There were too many people dying in pursuits—24 people in that period—and it seemed clear something had to change.
When the IPCA's review was published, they made several recommendations, including recommending changes to Police pursuit policy:
The authority recommends that:
Review of Police Pursuits | IPCA
- Police amend the pursuit policy to provide clearer guidance on the circumstances in which pursuits are justified, in particular the seriousness of offending and/or immediate threat to public safety required to justify the decision to pursue an offender who has failed to stop and attempted to evade Police. In this context, Police should consider:
- making the risk to public safety from not stopping an offender the principal determining factor justifying decisions to commence and continue pursuit;
- requiring that the decision to pursue is based on known facts, rather than general suspicion or speculation that a person who flees may have committed a more serious offence.
But these recommendations were not binding. Instead of accepting them, Police said they would consider them in their own internal review of pursuits. The Police Minister at the time, Judith Collins, said in an interview on RNZ that "we accept all the recommendations from the Authority including the need for Police to review their pursuit policy" and "we absolutely accept the Authority's views".
Police's own Pursuits Policy Review was published in June 2010. This review recommended a number of small tweaks to the existing pursuits policy, but did not include any of the recommendations from the IPCA's review. As noted later that year in the media, the IPCA's recommendations were effectively ignored by Police:
A police review of pursuit policy this year - the fourth in six years - ignored key recommendations of the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) and made only minor changes.
[IPCA chair Justice Lowell] Goddard last year called on police to more clearly proscribe when to pursue and to make "the risk to public safety from not stopping an offender" the main consideration.
The Authority also recommended that the decision to pursue be based on known facts, rather than general suspicion or speculation.
Neither recommendation was taken up. Goddard yesterday told the Herald the IPCA stood by those recommendations and believed public safety issues were of sufficient importance to merit ongoing review of police pursuit policy.
She said the top two police officers had agreed to further discussion.The chase is still on | NZ Herald
Police pursuit policy has undergone further revisions since then, but has still not implemented the changes recommended in 2009.
But in all this time one thing has stayed the same: people keep dying in police pursuits. Despite this repeated cycle of calls for change, has anything actually changed?
Police have recently released statistics under the Official Information Act on their pursuits for the period of 2012 to 2017. As of February 2017, Police have also included information on the number of police pursuits going back as far as January 2009 in a regular release of road policing driver offence data.
In 2007, Police conducted a review of pursuits from the period of April 2004 to May 2007. This followed Police having introduced a new database system in early 2004 that would allow them to keep better track of their pursuits.
This newly released data allows a comparison to be drawn between the 2004-2007 period leading up to the IPCA's 2009 recommendations to improve public safety, and the years after Police's internal review and updates to their policy. What changed after a decade?
Number of pursuits
Just over 6,000 pursuits were recorded from April 2004 to May 2007, though the true number of police pursuits in this period is likely to be significantly higher.
The report notes that the number of pursuits recorded increased by 86.5% during this review period and "Organisational efforts to improve recording practices are likely to have played a significant role in this increase".
In comparison, there were 9,398 police pursuits in the same period a decade later, from April 2014 to May 2017.
Looking at a longer trend, the number of police pursuits had remained fairly constant for several years, up until the end of 2014. Over the next three years, the frequency of pursuits has increased from roughly 200 per month to over 300 per month.
Looking instead at the three years from April 2012 to May 2015, a period of the same length as the earlier review but mostly prior to the change in trend, there were 7,369 pursuits recorded.
Here is how the number of police pursuits per month has varied from 2009 to the end of 2017: