The Chase is a four-day Herald series looking at police pursuits and fleeing drivers. Since January 2008 there have been more than 30,000 pursuits, hundreds of crashes and 79 deaths. The series runs from Monday to Thursday ahead of a joint review of pursuits by police and the IPCA which will be released on Friday.

When, and how, do police decide whether to pursue a vehicle?

What rules to they follow and who calls the shots during a chase?

And what is more important - the safety of Kiwis or catching the offending driver?

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The current police pursuit policy - which may change after a lengthy review by the Independent Police Conduct Authority due to be released on Friday - outlines the rules of engagement for officers pursuing fleeing drivers.

"Fleeing drivers can be volatile and unpredictable," the policy states.

"Incidents are often high-risk and staff/public safety is the paramount consideration when initiating and resolving any fleeing driver pursuit.

"Police employees must be flexible in their response to what will often be a changing situation."

Police use a risk assessment tool called Threat-Exposure-Necessity-Response to help them decide whether to pursue.

Any pursuit must be resolved "safely and as quickly as possible whilst using the least amount of force".

"Any decision to commence and continue a fleeing driver pursuit will be able to be justified," the policy says.

"The overarching principles is that public and police employee safety takes precedence over the immediate apprehension of a fleeing driver.

"Fleeing driver incidents must be managed in the safest possible manner… (and) will only be commenced and/or continue when the seriousness of the offence and the necessity of immediate apprehension outweigh the risk of pursuing."

"The fact that a driver is fleeing does not in itself justify a pursuit."

A fleeing driver is described in the policy as a driver who has been signalled to stop by an officer but fails to do so.

If the driver is known to police and does not pose an "imminent threat" the preferred approach is for officers to locate them and deal with them later.

However it is deemed necessary for them to give chase, processes must be followed.

The officer driving the "lead vehicle" is primarily responsible for deciding whether to pursue a fleeing driver.

Either they or a colleague in the car or a secondary vehicle must be in regular contact with the communications centre throughout the pursuit.

The driver must:

• activate their lights and sirens
• notify the communications of the pursuit "as soon a practicable"
• give their location, details of the offending car, speed and reason for pursuit

Simply "failing to stop" for police is not a reason".

Road spikes are a tactical option police can use when pursuing fleeing drivers. NZME photograph
Road spikes are a tactical option police can use when pursuing fleeing drivers. NZME photograph

A pursuit controller is designated and they give a pursuit warning: "if there is any unjustified risk to any person you must abandon pursuit immediately. Acknowledge."

The lead vehicle must respond with "affirm".

The controller then states to all involved in the pursuit: "if there is any unjustified risk to any person you must abandon pursuit immediately. Acknowledge."

Again, they must respond with affirm, then confirm their lights and sirens are activated.

A secondary vehicle is then instructed to follow behind the lead at a safe distance to "provide support and tactical options".

During a pursuit other police must not "actively participate" or respond unless they are "preparing tactical options" including road spikes, road closures or "responding to a pursuit controller direction that could assist in safely stopping the fleeing driver".

If "sufficient doubt" is held about the safety of the pursuit it must be abandoned.

No police officer can be directed to commence or continue a fleeing driver pursuit against their judgement.

A driver's decision not to commence a fleeing driver pursuit, or to abandon a pursuit, cannot be overridden.

But anyone involved in the pursuit from the lead vehicle to the controller can make the order to abandon.

More than 30,000 pursuits have been logged by police since January 2008. Photo / File
More than 30,000 pursuits have been logged by police since January 2008. Photo / File

Every pursuit is subject to "close scrutiny" including police review, IPCA investigations in many cases and they may be the subject of criminal or civil court proceedings.

"Officers involved in the fleeing driver pursuit are neither relieved nor protected from the consequences of reckless disregard for the lives and safety of others," the policy reminds.

Pursuits - the rules

• police must complete a risk assessment before starting a pursuit
• all pursuits must be justified and police must have a good reason
• simply failing to stop is not justification for a pursuit
• if they decide a pursuit is necessary they must activate their lights and sirens
• then notify the communications of the pursuit "as soon a practicable"
• they must give location, details of the offending car, speed and reason for pursuit
• they must keep the pursuit controller up to date with all relevant information
• if the pursuit is deemed unsafe at any time it must be abandoned
• pursuits must be resolved as quickly as possible with the least amount of force