Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

IPCA: Police 'breached policy' in pursuit

Medics attend to the cyclist who was hit during the pursuit.  Photo / Stuart Munro
Medics attend to the cyclist who was hit during the pursuit. Photo / Stuart Munro

Police "breached policy" several times during a pursuit last year in which a 25-year-old Whanganui man was killed after losing control of his car and hitting a parked truck.

An Independent Police Conduct Authority ruling released today said that while the officers involved in the incident "generally complied with policy" while pursuing the man, two phases of the three-phase chase "should not have occurred and posed an undue risk to officers and members of the public".

Calum Meyer died on May 7 last year after the Holden Commodore he was driving collided with a parked truck. He was fleeing police at the time.

The IPCA outlined Mr Meyer's movements that day, the police response.

At 9am two police officers parked in an unmarked car on London Street saw Mr Meyer's car leave an address that was "of interest".

There was one occupant in the car and while they believed it was Mr Meyer, who was disqualified from driving, they had not conclusively identified him.

They decided to follow the Holden and stop it. When they were about 30m behind the Holden they activated the siren. The driver then "surged forward and sped off", prompting police to pursue him.

They advised the central communications centre that they were in pursuit of a car for failing to stop. Soon after Mr Meyer mounted a traffic island and crossed onto the wrong side of the road towards oncoming traffic, at speed.

The pursuing officers were told by their dispatcher to abandon the pursuit if there was "any unjustified risk to any person".

The pursuit continued until Mr Meyer hit a cyclist.

Officers then abandoned the chase and confirmed to the dispatcher they were no longer following Mr Meyer.

Police then entered a "search phase" and were looking for Mr Meyer's vehicle. The details were broadcast over the police radio.

Another patrol spotted him and started a second pursuit after he appeared to drive directly at the police car. The officer in that car said it was a "serious situation" and the second pursuit was "justified because [the driver] had maybe killed someone and nobody knew who he was".

The dispatcher repeated the directive that the officers were to abandon the pursuit if there was any unjustified risk. At the time the patrol car was travelling at 140km/h.

Mr Meyer was ahead of the police and narrowly avoided colliding with a truck and trailer. He was swerving towards oncoming cars and driving on the wrong side of the road. Once the officers relayed the information to the dispatcher they were ordered to abandon the pursuit which they did. The pursuit lasted just over one minute.

As Mr Meyer sped towards Waverley, police raised concerns that he would cause "a massive crash". They continued following him at a low speed.

A few minutes later a third patrol saw the Holden but it soon disappeared from view. Then a fourth patrol relocated Mr Meyer heading back towards Whanganui and followed him.
Police were then authorised to use road spikes to stop the 25-year-old but as he approached he saw what they were doing and swerved to avoid them.

"The car began fishtailing and as Mr Meyer tried to control the car, he overcorrected and drove off the road into a ditch," the IPCA said.

Mr Meyer managed to drive the Holden out of the ditch and again, took off at speed.

Soon after police initiated a third pursuit, and the risk warning was repeated again by the dispatcher.

But the officer following the Holden pulled out due to Mr Meyer's "degree of recklessness in his driving". He slowed down, and turned off his sirens just five seconds after the pursuit began.

The officer advised the dispatcher: "I'm going to back off and let him go... e's an extreme risk, I'm just going to let him go".

Police are required to pull over when a pursuit has been abandoned, but the officer carried on following for another 20 seconds at a lower speed.

A second set of road spikes were authorised and as officers prepared them a truck approached. It stopped and when Mr Meyer approached soon after, accelerating heavily, the spikes were thrown out onto the road.

Mr Meyer was travelling at about 130km/h and lost control of the Holden as he came up to the spikes.

"Mr Meyer's car began sliding across the road, with the front of this car pointing to the grass on the left side of the road. Mr Meyer appeared to overcorrect, and the back wheels of the car slid on the grass verge," the report stated.

"The front of the wheels of the car hit the road spikes and the car drifted across the road where it collided with the front of the parked truck. Mr Meyer died instantly.

IPCA chairman Judge Sir David Carruthers Mr Meyer demonstrated risky driving behaviour to avoid being caught by police.

"He committed multiple offences and his actions put officers and others at significant risk throughout. However the Authority's focus is on whether police actions were appropriate," he said.

The Authority found that police mostly complied with relevant law and police policy during each of the three stages of the pursuit and the deployment of road spikes.

However, it noted that there was no clear permission from the pursuit controller to recommence the pursuit, and that one officer breached policy when he failed to pull over and stop after abandoning the third stage of the pursuit.

While acknowledging that police largely complied with their 'fleeing driver' policy, the Authority found that the second and third pursuits should not have been initiated.

"There was no reasonable basis for Police to conclude that recommencement of the pursuit would either reduce the risk or was likely to influence Mr Meyer to stop. Mr Meyer's behaviour pointed to the fact that further Police pursuits would be likely to maintain, if not increase, the risk that he posed" said Sir David.

The Authority has recommended that police amend the 'fleeing driver' policy to clearly prohibit recommencing a pursuit unless police have good reason to believe that:

a) the risk posed by the fleeing person's driving behaviour will be significantly reduced during the new pursuit; or

b) a further pursuit is likely to succeed in stopping the fleeing vehicle.

In a statement police said they accepted the IPCA findings.

"Police do not want to see anybody lose their lives in this way and we extend our sympathies to Mr Meyer's family for their loss," said says Assistant Commissioner Districts Allan Boreham.

"However, as noted in the IPCA report, Mr Meyer demonstrated by his actions that day that he was prepared to risk his life and the lives of others to avoid being caught by police."

The IPCA report also noted that Mr Meyer had methamphetamine and cannabis in his system.

"We are very fortunate that nobody else was killed or seriously injured as a result of Mr Meyer's extremely dangerous driving that day," Mr Boreham said.

He said the police were considering the IPCA's recommendations regarding amending the pursuit policy.

- NZ Herald

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