29 Nov 2022

Police to broaden gang operation, revise policy on fleeing drivers - Commissioner Andrew Coster

8:53 am on 29 November 2022
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Police Commissioner Andrew Coster. Photo: RNZ/ Samuel Rillstone

Police will increase their presence in problem areas for retail crime, broaden the gang-focused Operation Cobalt and plan to revise their policy on chasing fleeing drivers.

Commissioner Andrew Coster said police recognised the public's concern over the homicide in Sandringham and the seriousness of crime affecting retail businesses.

Last week, Janak Patel, 34, was fatally stabbed outside the Rose Cottage Superette in Sandringham, after confronting someone who had allegedly robbed the store.

Funeral programme for Janak Patel who was killed while working at Rose Cottage Superette in Sandringham following a robbery.

Janak Patel. Photo: RNZ / Rayssa Almeida

"There is no doubt the recent tragic death of Janak Patel in Sandringham has impacted our communities, including our staff who are working hard to support retailers."

Where possible, police would have increased foot and vehicle patrols in shopping precincts in areas where there has been an increased number reports of burglaries and robberies.

"We understand any incident that involves violence impacts the feelings of safety for business owners, families, friends and the wider community," Coster said.

The offending was a complex issue and police had also been working with other agencies on alternative resolutions for some young people.

"However, for repetitive and adult offenders, we are taking a stronger stance," Coster said.

Coster told Morning Report despite the recent spate of ram raids and burglaries the crime rate, including youth crime, was falling.

"We have seen a short term spike in the crime affecting particularly retail businesses, and particularly in the form of ram raids and related offending, but most other offending types including residential burglary are below the place they were pre-Covid."

Operation Cobalt, which focuses on disrupting unlawful gang behaviour, was due to end in December but would be expanded and continue into the new year.

"I have instructed that Operation Cobalt be broadened to also focus on those offenders that are causing significant and repeated harm.

"This includes those using stolen vehicles, and threats of violence with weapons to seriously impact people's livelihoods and sense of safety."

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Police will change its fleeing driver policy. File image. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Fleeing driver policy

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said changes introduced two years ago had seen an increase in drivers fleeing events and decrease in the number of offenders identified.

He said the changes would provide clarity for when officers are justified in pursuing a vehicle and will give weight to the threat of further harm if offenders were not caught immediately.

"We know there is a desire for change and a perception that offenders are more brazen and more willing to take risks with their driving behaviour," Coster said.

"The revisions will bring us back to a more balanced position, while still prioritising the safety of officers and the public."

Coster said the details were still being worked through and further information would be released next year.

But he said fleeing driver incidents were "volatile, unpredictable, and high risk" to all involved.

"I believe the coming revisions will achieve more balance, accepting that there is no perfect solution.

"Drivers who choose not to pull over for police when instructed put themselves, our staff, and the public at risk.

"The one thing that will always remain at the forefront of this policy is an acknowledgement of that risk, and that safety must always come first."

"What we are talking about is moving the pendulum slightly back towards permission to consider pursuit where there is high risk of harm from further serious offending," Coster told Morning Report.

"There's an immediate risk when drivers flee but there's is also a risk to safety when offenders are at large in the community - or when offenders feel emboldened because they believe that they will be able to get away with offending.

"There's just no one right or perfect solution here."

Yesterday, dairy owners closed up shop in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch to gather together and call for harsher punishments for offenders.

The father of Janak Patel was among hundreds in Auckland to protest against violent crime.

The government yesterday announced a multi-million dollar crime prevention plan following public outcry over Janak Patel's death.

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