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.
Young criminals are stealing cars and baiting cops on high-speed cat-and-mouse chases livestreamed to social media, a senior frontline officer says.
The experienced operator, who spoke to the Herald on the condition he was not named, says that when he joined the police in the 1990s he might've been involved in a pursuit once every three months.
Now, there are night shifts where officers might face multiple pursuits.
And it's getting worse, he says, with young offenders taking extreme risks to get away from police, running red lights, driving at speeds in high-powered cars, and into ongoing traffic.
"It never used to be like that. Most drivers would pull over," says the officer who has been involved in hundreds of pursuits, including ones that have ended in deaths over his 28-year career.
"For some, it's a game for young offenders to steal cars and entice and bait police all night.
"In some cases, it's joyriding. In extreme cases, it's to get involved in pursuits and to record it and put it on social media… even by livestreaming it."
Some young offenders, "primarily aged under 20… both boys and girls", also show a "savviness" and knowledge of the police rules of engagement and disengagement.
Police officers abandon pursuits when driving becomes too dangerous.
Today, there are more procedures and policy around fleeing drivers than when the officer started policing in the early 1990s.
But the rules are often being "manipulated" by the fleeing drivers.
"I say they're savvy, but they have no qualms about putting other people and lives at risk, let along their own," the officer says.
"There have been examples around the country recently where these kids have died. Even with the pursuits being abandoned, they still drive recklessly anyway. The risk they're taking far outweighs any possible outcome, it's just crazy."
The officer has been involved in pursuits that have ended with people dying.
While it always has a deep impact on the individual's family and friends, as well as the wider community, it also affects the police officers involved.
"When a pursuit ends in a fatality or serious injury, it's extremely distressing for the staff involved and it's a totally undesirable outcome. It's hard to articulate exactly what stresses and strains police staff go through in a normal pursuit, let alone one that ends where someone dies," he says.
"But the other side of that coin is that we're doing our job to stop that vehicle causing those injuries to an innocent member of the public. Bearing in mind that any pursuit death that I've been involved in, or supervised, the pursuit has been abandoned [but] the driving has not stopped being reckless or dangerous and it still ended up with that result."
After such a critical incident, officers can be stood down from frontline duties while various inquiries – criminal, IPCA, coroner – are undertaken.
Officers are offered counselling and a wide-range of support services.
But the effect can be career-changing and often last years, the officer says.
"The stress of what they see and someone dying and knowing they played a role in it, whether directly or indirectly, can change your desire, your belief in what you're doing on the frontline," he says.
"Most frontline staff don't particularly enjoy pursuits, because of the attached risks and the likelihood of something going wrong. It's what we're paid to do but it's very, very tough going."
Something has to change to stem the concerning upward trend in fleeing drivers.
The officer believes it has to start with a "mindset change" by the young offenders.
"They've got to know that there are consequences for their actions and it's too late when someone dies, whether it's someone in the car or an innocent member of the public," he says.
"It would appear that whatever policy or procedure we put in place, people are still dying.
"Something has to change, but I don't have the answers."
Pursuits - the facts
• Since January 2008 there have been 30,950 police pursuits.
• The number of pursuits has increased steadily each year for the last decade.
• During those pursuits, 79 drivers and passengers were killed.
• Others were also killed including innocent road users.
• Police figures show that pursuits are most likely to happen between 10pm and 6am.
• Crashes are more likely at night.
• The majority of drivers are young males and many are driving stolen cars.
• In most cases the driver was killed and there were a significant number of crashes where multiple passengers also died.