24 Oct 2019

Police chases: Avoid pursuing fleeing youths, says Judge Becroft

12:12 pm on 24 October 2019

The Children's Commissioner is calling for a ban on police chases involving children and young people fleeing in cars, unless the circumstances make it absolutely necessary.

Children's Commissioner, Andrew Becroft

Judge Andrew Becroft. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

In the most recent case of a fatal chase, 64-year-old Kenneth McCaul was killed when his car was hit by a fleeing 17-year-old driver in Christchurch early on Tuesday morning.

Judge Andrew Becroft said too much was being currently expected of police, who had to weigh-up in a split second whether to pursue young people in cars.

He said it made more sense to follow a basic rule not to pursue once police identified or reasonably suspected young people or children were in a fleeing vehicle.

"We know it's a hard decision to weigh-up those decisions under real pressure," he told Morning Report.

"That's why the starting point should be, if we know it's a child or young person, don't pursue. That's a much easier starting point and it works, it worked overseas. I think we would avoid needless death and injuries if that happened."

He said fleeing young drivers should still be held to account for their actions, but they could be picked up later "without the need for speed", meaning public safety could be better ensured.

"Of course there will be times a chase is necessary but often the whole point is to lure the police into the chase," he said. "The purpose of the chase, if we took the accelerator out of it, I think there's a great chance we'd reduce death and injury."

A research review by the Evidence-Based Policing Centre has found young people are more likely to have negative attitudes towards the police, and for minority groups, this was magnified. A lack of maturity and self-control, and other emotional reactions, also play a part in how young people respond to authority, sometimes recklessly.

The findings were part of a quarterly report in response to the March review of how the police managed pursuits.

Judge Andrew Becroft said the research also showed young drivers were fleeing for the thrill of the chase.

"They can film it, they can livestream it, there's some form of twisted badge of honour being in the police pursuit," he said.

"So for a number of reasons we know that teenagers don't make good decisions under pressure. There may be a real feeling of unfairness.

"Either way, the policy needs to change, it needs adjustment. If police know or reasonably suspect that children or young people are in the car, unless it's life or death, something really serious, then they shouldn't pursue, the risks are just too high."

Assistant Police Commissioner Sandra Venables said some pursuits remained necessary and police could not commit to reducing the number of pursuits they could be involved in.

"What we are looking at doing is making sure if we do undertake a pursuit it's for the right reasons and safety is the absolute number one priority for all road users. I think we are doing a lot of work in relation to that," she told Morning Report.

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