The Bay of Plenty has one of the worst rates of police pursuits in the country, surpassed only by Northland.

In 2018 there were 412 police pursuits in the Bay of Plenty police district; 212 of those were abandoned by police and 76 resulted in crashes.

The figures have been sharply increasing since 2010 when there were a total of 178 pursuits; 50 of those were abandoned and 24 resulted in crashes.

The data comes ahead of today's release of a joint review into pursuits by police and the Independent Police Conduct Authority.


It will be the fifth review of police pursuits since 2000.

Police have engaged in more than 30,000 pursuits across New Zealand in the past 10 years, during which time 79 people were killed in related crashes.

Others have been killed in pursuit-related incidents, including police shootings, and hundreds, including those in the fleeing cars and the patrol cars chasing them, have been injured.

Late last month, Astin Cruz Hooper led police on a slow pursuit around rural roads in Te Teko, Otakiri and Onepu after robbing the First Credit Union in Kawerau.

Hooper eventually brought his truck to a standstill on State Highway 30 at Onepu, got out and fired a shot at armed offender squad officers. The officers returned fire, shooting Hooper dead.

Locally, six people have been killed in the past nine years during police pursuits: Hayden Tahau, 26, from Taupō, in March 2017, Moana Matthews, 17, from Rotorua, in August 2016, Caleb Dean Henry, 20, from Ōpōtiki, shot by police following pursuit in July 2013, James Dean Miles, 18, from Katikati, in November 2012 and driver Harley Kendrick Sean Wilson, 21 and passenger Michael Adam Kaui Keepa, 25, from Te Puke in October 2010.

New Zealand Police Association Bay of Plenty director Scott Thompson said while the statistics were unfortunate there were two people involved in pursuits and only one party had the option of finalising it safely - the fleeing driver.

"It is a scary place [for police], but there is an obligation to be there to uphold the law and hold people accountable when they have done wrong. It is a fine balancing act.

"No one goes to work wanting to hurt, injure or kill anyone, it goes against the whole ethos of why our staff go to work. They go there to protect the public."

Car crash outside Fordlands shops after police chase in September 2018. Photo / File
Car crash outside Fordlands shops after police chase in September 2018. Photo / File

Thompson said although police were specifically trained for pursuits, it did impact them and their families.

"Unfortunately for staff, they take a lot of responsibility on board they shouldn't because they are just doing their job. They take it to heart if someone loses their life and more so if it's a young person.

"Your worst day is when your world has been turned upside down because things didn't go right.

"It is a lot to do with the individuals involved. Some people can cope with the trauma of things better than others."

A police chase ended south of Rotorua when the driver of a suspected stolen vehicle got stuck in mud on State Highway 38 in August 2017. Photo / File
A police chase ended south of Rotorua when the driver of a suspected stolen vehicle got stuck in mud on State Highway 38 in August 2017. Photo / File

Thompson said police would often argue with themselves about what kept the community safer as police could face criticism if the fleeing driver was not pursued but "they drive around the corner and kill someone".

He believed it was simply a case of police being able to do the best they could with the information at hand.

"Invariably if you look at the reasons why people fail to stop for police, the ultimate penalty is always going to be something less than death or serious injury because the courts can't impose those penalties."

Police Minister Stuart Nash said he supported the current policy but was "keen to see" the review.

"I do back the police to use their discretion in deciding whether to chase, whether to abandon, what course of action to take.

"These are the men and women who are out there seeing this every single day and making the split-second decisions that they believe are in the best interests of our community."

Retired police officer and Rotorua deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said the statistics were disappointing but the blame did not solely fall on police.

"It's a huge issue both for police and for the community and politicians to grapple with. Do we give a green light to any fleeing criminal to say 'if you choose to run away you'll get away' or do we employ all the tools available?

"What we have to try and do is encourage a culture of peer pressure [which stops] people who present a danger behind the wheel."

In Police News Police Association president Chris Cahill said blanket do not pursue policies were problematic.

"The vast majority of pursuits are people who already drive dangerously.

"In the end, if the driver didn't flee there wouldn't be a problem."

Police would not comment ahead of the report findings to be released today.

Pursuits - the facts
- Pursuits most likely to happen between 10pm and 6am.
- The majority of drivers are young men and many are driving stolen cars.
- In most cases when there was a crash, the driver was killed. In a significant number of crashes, multiple passengers also died.