Report finds NZ police taking ‘unnecessary’ pursuit risks

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Words: Nile Bijoux   |   Photos Wikimedia
15 Mar 2019

A 109-page review of police practices and procedures has been released and the picture it paints is not entirely pretty.

Called ‘Fleeing Drivers in New Zealand’, the report has been two years in the making. It looked at 268 events involving fleeing drivers over 2017 and received information from 626 staff who were involved.

Police in New Zealand use a ‘restrictive fleeing driver policy’ that offers guidelines on what to do in a pursuit situation but ultimately trusts officers to use their professional judgement to initiate or continue a pursuit.

Safety is paramount and officers are taught to use the TENR (Threat, Exposure, Necessity, Response) risk assessment at all times during a pursuit.

However, the report found this varied in practice. Some officers took unnecessary risks to catch fleeing drivers for what were relatively minor offences, while others used the tool effectively.

"In general, the review found that there was a lack of understanding among staff about the risk officers create by initiating a pursuit and contributing to a fleeing vehicle," the report said.

It also reckoned that one way to increase accountability and public trust would be increased use of dashboard and body-worn cameras. More cameras would also help a conflict between officers in the field and those managing pursuits.

Ultimately, the review found that staff did not feel adequately trained to deal with fleeing drivers, and recommended another look at professional development in this area, including the use of simulators.

Seven final recommendations came from the review:

- Improve the police driver programme and staff understanding of TENR during fleeing driver events.

- Improve the skills of all staff involved in fleeing driver events.

- Review the fleeing driver policy against the review findings.

- Investigate whether units should be able to use their vehicles to stop offending vehicles that continue driving despite having their tyres spiked.

- Improve post-event follow-up to strengthen accountability mechanisms.

- Review the role of the Air Support Unit (Eagle helicopter) and clarify its role.

- Explore ways of improving the communication centre's access to real time information.

- Commission further research and analysis of fleeing drivers to improve understanding of their motivations.

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