Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Police pursuit guidance not set to change

Police pursuits are again being debated, after three teenagers died in two separate pursuits this year. Photo / File, Lynda Feringa
Police pursuits are again being debated, after three teenagers died in two separate pursuits this year. Photo / File, Lynda Feringa

Police guidance on when officers should pursue fleeing drivers is not set to change -- despite its independent watchdog wanting a review.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has pushed for a review for some time, and repeated that call after appearing before Parliament's law and order committee today.

The police watchdog has also revealed it has not investigated complaints of police using excessive force because it does not have enough resources.

Police pursuits are again being debated, after three teenagers died in two separate pursuits this year.

Warren Young, group manager operations for the IPCA, said the authority believed there could be a way to provide clearer guidance for police officers about when to give chase, and when to decide not to.

"We are certainly hopeful that a new policy will be adopted very shortly ... we would like to have some clearer rules of thumb, so police officers can more readily determine making an instant decision about when it is appropriate.

"Our objective would be to try to reduce some of those pursuits that result in tragic deaths of young people, who are not a danger to wider members of the public, making decisions that are ultimately very bad decisions resulting in their own death."

Mr Young acknowledged that it was a very difficult area to get right, and said police departments around the world were struggling with the same issue.

Commissioner of Police Mike Bush said police had a robust policy for dealing with fleeing drivers. While an eye would always be kept on overseas jurisdictions to see if there was evidence for changes, he was comfortable with the policy and there were no plans for a review.

"I would like to acknowledge the tragedies and the families that have suffered in recent times, that is deeply concerning for all of us.

"But in relation to police action, our police staff are really professional in respect of how they manage these, we have a real low tolerance for risk, our staff withdraw from any fleeing driving incident as soon as it gets dangerous."

That position was backed by Police Minister Judith Collins, who said the police had to do their jobs. Police had reviewed the policy several times in recent years, and would always be looking at how things could be improved, Ms Collins said.

Last week, in the wake of two separate crashes after police pursuits, Ms Collins said young people needed to be reminded of the "absolute stupidity" of fleeing police.

Another topic at the IPCA select committee appearance was funding. Afterwards, Mr Young told media that the authority had used up its cash reserves, and would now have to operate within its annual appropriation.

"That obviously makes it more difficult than it has been in the past."

There have already been cases that the IPCA has not investigated because it did not have the resources, Mr Young said, including complaints of police using excessive force.

"The ones we regard as critical cases and most significant we do always independently investigate.

"We get 2500 complaints a year ... ultimately it is important that the police take responsibility for some of those matters as well. And that's why we have a practice of referring a lot of cases back to police with our active oversight."

Green Party police spokesman David Clendon said the IPCA was a highly efficient agency, and its funding position was of huge concern.

"It will be particularly concerning if the use of force investigations are referred back to police, that threatens the public confidence in the police.

"If they are seen to be investigating allegations against their own, of course, people will simply assume it's a whitewash -- rightly or wrongly."

Justice Minister Amy Adams said the IPCA was adequately funded, and was able to take on the most serious claims.

"Up until now they haven't put in a request for more funding, they may this year, we will work through that if they do."

- NZ Herald

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