A Tauranga police officer drove 40km/h over the speed limit on the wrong side of the road in the central city during a police pursuit, an independant report released today found.
The report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority on the serious injury to a passenger during the police pursuit on Cameron Rd last year has found the actions of one of the officers to be unjustified, placing the fleeing driver, members of the public and police at risk.
Around 3am on May 10, 2013 a member of the public approached a passing police patrol car telling the officers that his Toyota Corolla hatchback had just been stolen from the Kings View car park on Harrington St in Tauranga.
The owner was able to point out his car to the officers who saw a male driving the car onto Harrington St. The officers immediately began following the stolen car, activating their patrol car's lights and siren signalling the driver to stop.
The driver of the stolen car failed to stop and at the intersection of Cameron Rd and Elizabeth St, overshot a corner and ended up driving on the wrong side of Cameron Rd. From this point both the Toyota and the police patrol car travelled at speeds, close together, on the wrong side of the road in the lane closest to the median barrier.
After about a kilometre the Toyota hit the roundabout at the intersection of Cameron Rd and 9th Ave, lost control and collided with a street light knocking it to the ground. The Toyota then hit a tree on the median strip causing it to spin twice into the two left hand lanes before coming to a stop on the correct side of the road.
The male driver was treated by the police doctor at the Tauranga Police station while the female passenger was taken directly to hospital with a ruptured spleen.
In releasing today's report, the first resulting from a new multi-disciplinary team approach to investigations being adopted by the Authority, the Authority found that the officers had reasonable grounds to attempt to stop the Toyota given they believed the car was stolen. They were also authorised to commence a pursuit when the stolen Toyota failed to stop and attempted to evade police by speeding along Cameron Rd.
Following the pursuit the officers learnt that the male and female had assaulted the Toyota owner and his passenger as they got into the car, before they smashed the driver's window.
As a result of this incident, the male driver who had a breath alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit for his age, was charged with driving with excess breath alcohol causing injury, reckless driving causing injury and aggravated robbery. He was convicted and sentenced to four years and six months imprisonment. The female passenger was convicted of aggravated robbery and was sentenced to three years imprisonment.
Independent Police Conduct Authority chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers said although police complied with the law and policy in commencing, and communicating during the pursuit, the officer driving the patrol car did not give enough weight to the increased risk created by a pursuit at almost double the speed limit (95.4kph), on the wrong side of the road, and at a close distance of only two-to-three car lengths.
"The Authority believes that the pursuit may have placed the fleeing driver under further pressure, leading him to take greater risks with his driving," Sir David said.
As a result of this incident the officer has undergone further training. The Authority makes no further recommendations.