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 a police pursuit turns fatal we often hear from the families of the dead - the offending drivers, the innocent passengers, the other road users caught up in the carnage.

But we rarely, if ever, hear from the police behind the wheel in those pursuits; the officers who make the call to chase fleeing drivers in the first place.

Today, two officers have agreed to speak about their experience to give an insight into the police side of fatal pursuits.

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Both officers spoke to the Herald as part of The Chase, a four-day series looking at police pursuits in New Zealand, on the condition they were not named and the crashes they were involved in were not identified out of respect to the families of the dead.

'It wasn't my fault - I was just doing my job'

Officer B still chokes up when he talks about his first fatal pursuit.

Like Officer A, he is a long-time cop and pursuits are part and parcel of the job - but his first fatal is one he cannot forget.

The pursuit began after he came across a motorcyclist riding at a dangerously high speed - at least 155km/h in a 100km zone.

Officer B did a U-turn, turned his lights on and started to follow the rider, at the same time letting the comms centre what he was doing.

"I asked if there was another unit further down the road that could try to stop him, but there wasn't," he said

"The motorcyclist sped up and went even quicker … there's no doubt in my mind that he had seen me and that he knew I wanted him to stop."

By now the rider was about 1km ahead of Officer B.

The road was straight and the conditions were good and Officer B could see the rider in the distance.

"I managed to catch up with him, I think he thought I'd given up and he'd slowed down," he said.

"He realised I was there again so he took off and there was no doubt he was trying to get away."

By then, the officer had commenced a pursuit and was giving regular updates to the comms centre.

Police at the scene of a crash following a pursuit in Napier. Photo / Warren Buckland
Police at the scene of a crash following a pursuit in Napier. Photo / Warren Buckland

"I'm calling it in, doing what I'm supposed to do, his driving wasn't too bad - but he got up to almost 200km/h, it was a ridiculously high speed.

"He was getting closer to a town and I thought I had his number plate so I was thinking that if he didn't stop I could follow it up later.

"But then his riding started to deteriorate, he started moving onto the other side of the road - he wasn't driving into oncoming traffic, but his riding started getting worse.

"I thought 'this is a stupidly high speed and if he flies off he's really going to hurt himself', I thought 'this is going to go really, really bad'."

The rider was heading to a 50km zone at 190km/h and Officer B decided to abandon the pursuit.

"I thought 'this is ridiculous, I'm abandoning' and I pulled over.

The pursuit lasted 2.5 minutes and covered more than 12km because of the high speed.

Officer B watched the rider "vanish" into the town.

"I couldn't believe how fast he was going," he said.

The comms centre suggested Officer B initiate a search phase and go into the town and see if he could find the rider.

"I said there was no point as I didn't know where he'd gone," he said.

"About five minutes later another motorist drove up and said 'do you know there's a motorcycle crash down the road there?'"

Officer B called in the crash then headed into the town to check it out.

What he found there was devastating, and still haunts him to this day.

About 1km from where he had abandoned the pursuit, the rider had run through a major intersection at speed - later found by the Serious Crash Unit to be 120km/h - and collided with another vehicle.

"The first thing that goes through your mind is 'oh s**t'," he explained.

"It was absolute carnage … I watched CCTV footage of it later on and he didn't even try to brake, he just went straight through the intersection and hit another vehicle."

Officer B couldn't immediately see the rider but could see a fire crew down the road.

He went to speak to the driver in the other car who was - miraculously - uninjured.

"I asked where the motorcyclist had gone and someone said 'he's down there' and I realised the fire crew was working on him," Officer B said.

"He'd flown 30m down the road …

"I walked up and looked at him and I just said "oh my God' ... he wasn't moving, he had severe injuries… I thought 'Jesus Christ this is my fault, this is my fault, this is really bad," he said.

Other police arrived at the scene and took over.

Officer B 's immediate boss called him and told him to go home.

He explained what would happen next and said he would contact him again later with more information.

The rider was taken away an in an ambulance and Officer B went home.

"On the way home I rang my partner and said 'this is what's happened, I'm coming home.

"I got home and I just burst into tears, my partner gave me a big hug - that's all she could do."

It was a sleepless and fraught night for Officer B.

"I just ran through everything I did in my mind," he said.

"There were so many 'what ifs' ... it was such a high speed, should I have just let him go?

"Should I have not turned around?

"But if I'd done that I wouldn't be doing my job properly, you've got to try and hold these people to account.

"If he didn't do something silly, someone else might have and he couldn't have stopped in a hurry at that speed.

"I had to give it a go, you're not doing your job properly if you turn a blind eye to it.

"I had that battle going on in my head."

The next day Officer B found out the rider had died.

He was devastated.

He still is.

"Eventually I came to terms with the fact that the motorcyclist was actually the person making the dumb decisions, not me," he said.

"What I did, I was out there just trying to do my job, trying to keep him and other road users safe and hold him accountable for his actions.

"It actually wasn't my fault - but it still upsets me to talk about, I'm not 100 per cent at peace … I'm deeply affected by it."

Officer B felt for the rider's family and wished he could convey to them how he felt.

"It's certainly not something you ever want to happen," he said.

"I certainly hope it never happens to me again, but the chances are high that it will.

"If he had just pulled over, all that would have happened was a summons to appear in court.

"I couldn't give him a ticket because he was going far too fast.

"He might have gotten disqualified, forbidden to drive - but that's all.

"Now he's dead, is that worth losing your life over? I don't think so."

Officer B pleaded for people to learn from his story.

He said pursuits were "not fun" - they were the total opposite.

"These fatal pursuits don't just affect me and the person involved, they affect our families and so many other people and the effects are just so long-lasting," he said.

""I'm not only a police officer I'm a father, a husband, son, brother - I get affected by these traumatic events the same as everybody else.

"Just pull over, nothing is worth losing your life over or killing an innocent member of the public because you're stupid enough not to stop."

Officer B said there was a misconception by some people that if they drove really fast police had to abandon a pursuit.

A recent chase highlighted that for him.

He abandoned after just 400m when the driver started veering onto the wrong side of the road and towards oncoming traffic.

He drove the wrong way up a one-way street and reached a speed of 144km/h.

Officer B said he was driving like "a lunatic".

"They think there is more chance we will abandon if they are driving like a maniac," he said.

"We have to evaluate everything that's going on - the need to apprehend based on what they've done, balanced against the risk to the public.

"It's a constant evaluation trying to get someone to pull over versus risk."

It was Officer B 's first fatal pursuit, and while he hopes it will be his last, the reality is he could be in the same position any time he goes to work.

"No one wants a pursuit," he said.

"If people would just pull over, take responsibility for their actions, we wouldn't have to.

"Don't put yourself at risk, don't put anyone else at risk, just pull over - don't be stupid."

Officer's warning ignored 48 hours before tragedy

"You guys are going to end up crashing and killing someone," said Officer A.

"Nah mate," replied the driver of the stolen car, stopped for joyriding minutes earlier.

"You might not care about the police or the public or your life - but what if you kill your mates?" Officer A said.

"Nah, it'll never happen."

Less than 48 hours later, that exact thing did happen.

"I told this person two days earlier that he could kill himself or his mates," Officer A told the Herald.

"Two days later it actually happened and that earlier conversation kept running through my mind."

"I'm really p****d at him, it just feels like a waste … it just hits home the consequences of what can happen."

The officer was on patrol when it happened.

He was driving one way and a car came careening towards him in the opposite direction.

They were in a 70km/h zone and Officer A could tell the car was going much faster than the speed limit.

"It was going like a bat out of hell, I estimated about 100km," he said.

"I spun around and the driver hit the accelerator."

Officer A signalled for the driver to stop, but he carried on driving.

"I could see silhouettes through the tinted windows so I knew there were a few people in the car."

"They got up to 140 to 160km/h… there wasn't much traffic on the road, we maybe passed 10 cars in a 1km stretch but they were all getting out of the way."

As the driver turned corners he crossed the centreline - but one deceptively tight corner was his undoing.

"He stuffed it up … he hit the brakes but the car left the road and went up a bank," Officer A recalled.

"It spun 360 degrees in the air, it was like an action movie, then it came down in the middle of the road."

The driver tried to flee on foot but Officer A and his colleague were too quick.

They took him into custody and then set about finding the passengers.

Tragically, one had not survived the crash.

"It was absolutely surreal," the officer said.

"I've been in hundreds of pursuits, it's probably close to 300.

"But this was the first fatal.

"Unbelievably, two weeks later, a survivor was in another pursuit in another stolen car.

"How close do you have to come to death? There is no value put on their lives."

State Highway 2 near Tauranga was closed as police chased a fleeing driver seen jumping out of a flaming car and into the Wairoa River recently. Photo / NZME
State Highway 2 near Tauranga was closed as police chased a fleeing driver seen jumping out of a flaming car and into the Wairoa River recently. Photo / NZME

Officer A has seen it all when it comes to pursuits.

He's seen drivers leap out of mangled wrecks and take off on foot, only to be tracked and caught by police dogs.

He's been rammed by much bigger vehicles as they try to get around police blockades.

Nothing really surprises him any more - but his dream result would be never partaking in another pursuit for the rest of his career.

"I've seen a few (pursuit-related crashes) in my career - once a car doing 200km/h clipped a barrier and spun up an onramp like it was in a pinball machine and the offender got out and ran away.

"It bamboozles me how they survive …"

Officer A said he was "quite removed" from the fatal when it first happened.

He still had work to do - offenders and a scene to deal with, reports to file.

But afterwards when he time to think, he got angry.

"I felt like I was really mad at [the driver] for involving me in that," he explained.

"His actions killed a person and he has involved me in that by doing what he did."

Officer A has been in the police for many years and spent all of his time on the front line.

Pursuits are part of the job, but in his mind they are happening far too often - and increasingly.

For front liners, pursuits are far more complex than simply chasing or following another vehicle.

"When you are actually in a pursuit … it's something that cannot be replicated," Officer A explained.

"It's like sitting the full licence test at three times the speed, but also having to think about a complex mathematical equation at the same time.

"You have to think about what tactics you're going to use, what they're doing, keep yourself safe.

"At the same time you have to give information to the police comms centre - where you are, where they are, what speed, what the driving is like.

"That, at speed, it's a bit of a brain melter.

"I would say that a lot of cops get scared, but my personal view is that it's not scary - it's all risk assessment."

All officers are trained in pursuit driving at Police College and are put through their paces in simulated situations.

"So when you come out you're not completely new to it," Officer A said.

"Over time it becomes part and parcel of the job.

"But pursuits are becoming way more prevalent that what they used to be when I first joined police. They're becoming more of a norm.

"I think it's because people know our pursuit policy, it's gotten stricter over time.

"I was in a completely unreal pursuit once spanning almost 80km.

"The car got spiked and the driver lost one tyre but he still managed to do 160km/h with three wheels.

"In the end the wheel wore down so much that it couldn't turn any more and then it locked and he spun out.

"He was high on drugs and he tried to run away but we caught him."

A week later Officer A spoke to the offender who said: "I was driving recklessly because you didn't abandon the pursuit."

"I was driving so fast, why didn't you abandon? I can't believe you did that officer."

"I couldn't get into this guy's head that he was the dangerous one," Officer A said.

"The escalation in their minds is 'if I drive like a dickhead then the police are going to pull out and if they don't pull out I'll drive worse and worse'.

"That's scary - they're thinking 'I'm going to drive more and more dangerously until the police leave me alone'."

Officer A said drivers under 17 were involved in more than half of the pursuits he had been in.

"It seems that the young ones are learning how to break into cars from an earlier age, they break in and go joyriding.

"It's that PlayStation mentality - but if they drive really fast and crash in a computer game there is a reset button.

"Or they think 'I can drive like that because it's like that in the movies' and often when they see that, no one gets hurt.

"There is no reset button in real life."

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

The fatal pursuit still affects the officer.

He can remember it, and does often.

Afterwards he had to give a "ginormous" statement to his colleagues about what had happened - every movement and action scrutinised by his managers and then the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

He vividly remembers walking into the station to give that statement.

"No one would talk to me, I had to have a lawyer with me - I felt like I was a suspect in a crime," he said.

"I felt like I was the bad guy, that was a horrible feeling.

"But I knew I'd followed policy.

"The most frustrating thing is we get scrutinised probably more than the offender who is the person who chose to run in the first place and drove dangerously.

"That's the frustrating thing for me. I didn't kill anyone. The driver who decided to take off and crash his car killed his mate."

Officer A had no idea what the review this week would bring but believed there was a place in policing for pursuits.

"The ability to pursue has to be there," he said.

"We're damned if we do, and damned if we don't.

"In the fatal pursuit he was already driving well over the speed limit when I saw him and it's not like I made him start driving dangerously.

"Where do you draw the line? They're still going to drive like that anyway, they're still going to risk crashing into someone."

His advice to those engaging in pursuits, or considering fleeing police, was simple.

"Just stop," he said.

"The consequences of fleeing are final.

"There's nothing that's going to happen with police that's worth risking your life for.

"That's my message."