15 Mar 2019

IPCA police pursuits review 'fails' to offer youth policy - Children's Commissioner

1:36 pm on 15 March 2019

The Children's Commissioner has criticised the latest report into police pursuits for its failure to offer any immediate change to policy around young people.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The review, the first joint effort on the subject by police and the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), looked at 268 police pursuits from 2017 and made eight recommendations to police which largely focused on training and technology.

It came after a steady increase in the number of police pursuits, and media scrutiny over the number of chases ending in the deaths of underage drivers fleeing.

Read more:

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said the review offered no immediate policy change on the decision to pursue young drivers.

"As a result, it fails to respond to the urgency of calls to limit police pursuits when children and young people are involved," he said.

Judge Becroft said he wanted police to introduce a one-year pursuit pilot that would see chases involving youth drastically reduced.

The current policy applies the same approach to children as it does to adults, and Judge Becroft said this should be reversed as teenagers were particularly prone to poor judgement in a high-stress situation.

"Good policing, modern resources and the advantages of technology mean that young drivers who fail to stop will mostly be apprehended and subsequently held to account," he said.

'No easy answer' - Police Association

Police Association president Chris Cahill said his union welcomed the review, but the fact remained it offered no solutions.

"New Zealanders can now see there is no easy answer to the conundrum that fleeing drivers pose for police and the public," he said.

Criticism has also focused on the heavily Māori-skewed statistics for police chases. Recent stats showed 54 percent - are Māori, though police rejected that had anything to do with bias.

The review offered some statistics of its own from the small sample of cases it reviewed - most of which were crashes.

Cases of fleeing drivers it examined were more than 95 percent male, more than 60 percent Māori, and more than 65 percent unlicensed. The median age was between 24 and 26, and more than half had at least 16 criminal convictions.

Mr Cahill said that dispelled a few myths about police chases.

"Drivers who flee from police are not all juveniles in stolen cars," he said.

"As officers abandon more and more fleeing driver events ... the number of fleeing drivers nevertheless continues to rise. That is an interesting consideration for those who call for a total ban on pursuits.

He said it was important to put the numbers in perspective.

"Police stop about 2.5 million vehicles a year. That's an average of nearly 7000 a day, and those who refuse to stop account for 0.15 percent of those," he said.

"It is therefore imperative that the recommendations in this review translate into tangible improvements for officers."

He also endorsed further research into fleeing drivers' motivations.

Police Minister backs review

In a statement, Police Minister Stuart Nash said police would update him every three months on the progress being made on the report's eight recommendations.

He said the review showed the police approach to pursuits was "in general" fit for purpose.

"It finds there is no need for wholesale changes to the policy. Nevertheless there are opportunities for improvement," he said.

"I support the decision to take a fresh look at training and to improve de-briefs for officers to help them better understand and manage risk.

He said it was clear police were increasingly abandoning pursuits due to safety concerns, a statement which was backed up by police statistics.

"In 2018, police abandoned 59 percent of pursuits. In 2009 the figure was 30 percent. We want our roads to be safe for all road users and others who may be caught up in a fleeing driver incident."

He said he looked forward to further research into fleeing drivers' motivations.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs