The number of times drivers refuse to pull over when ordered by the police has been steadily increasing year by year over the past decade. Over that same period, the conduct of police pursuits has been frequently criticised, reviewed and a more precautionary code of practice has been adopted. There is no doubt the restrictions on the police have encouraged foolish young offenders to lead police in a chase.
As one of them told the Herald, "I know that if I drove too fast or I drove erratically the cops have to stop chasing you — so that's kind of what I was going for."
But new constraints on the police are not the only likely reason for the increase. The popularity of video games and social media appear to be distorting the boundaries of fiction and reality in the minds of many. A seasoned police officer interviewed for our study of the problem this week said for some offenders it has become a game to steal cars and bait police all night. "In extreme cases, it's to get involved in pursuits and put it on social media, even by livestreaming it."
All the more reason, surely, for police not to participate in this "game".
On Friday, the police and the Independent Police Complaints Authority will release the results of joint review of pursuits, looking at the situations in which they happen and the way the police manage them. It might recommend further precautions in police practice though it is hard to see how much more cautious the guidelines could be.
The overarching principle of the instructions to police is that public safety, and their own, is more important than catching a fleeing driver. They can start or continue a pursuit only if the seriousness of the offence and the need to catch the offender outweigh the risks involved in the pursuit. When they start a pursuit, the lead police driver must notify the communications centre giving their location, details of the offending car, speed and reason for the pursuit.
No officer driving can be ordered to start or continue a pursuit against their own judgment and at any time any single officer involved in the pursuit, whether in the lead car or the control room, can make an order to abandon the chase.
It is hard to see how the rules could be loaded more heavily on the side of safety. Purists might say pursuits should not be started in any circumstances but a rule as rigid as that would not always serve the interests of safety. There will be fleeing offenders who present such an imminent threat to somebody, or to people at large, that the safety of those people outweighs the risks involved in the chase.
But in the great majority of situations, the guidelines surely argue against pursuit. When police patrols sense they are being enticed into somebody's "game" for thrills or a social media performance, the last thing they should want to do is play along. The latest review should tell us whether officers in patrol cars are susceptible to this sort of silliness and whether, once in pursuit, their judgment has been affected by adrenalin.
Maturity and technology surely favours the police when someone defies their lawful authority. There must be smarter ways to arrest an idiot.