COMMENT:

Regrettably, it took the massacres at Christchurch mosques to galvanise our politicians into banning the sale of weapons of mass destruction from the corner gun shop.

Too late, sadly, to save the lives of 50 innocents and protect the injured, or to prevent the heartbreak that has enveloped the country.

But hopefully, the regrets of recent days will embolden MPs to also ban a crime fighting tool which has caused the death of 79 young Kiwis over the past decade and left more than 400 seriously injured — the police car chase.

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The afternoon the Christchurch gunshots echoed around the world, the police and the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) released the findings of their two-year-long review into "Fleeing Drivers".

Because of other events, it disappeared without trace. Which is where it belongs.

The day before its release, Police Minister Stuart Nash defensively declared the report was "not a rubber-stamping exercise". He's right. It's worse. It's a whitewash, with a gentle "must try harder" note attached.

It's certainly a disappointing U-turn from the 2009 comments from then IPCA chairman Justice Lowell Goddard who scathingly queried "the value of pursuits that begin over driving offences such as speeding, careless driving or suspected drunk driving without observable, immediate threat to public safety".

She said: "There is little benefit to the public in police taking action that is likely to make a potentially dangerous situation worse."

The present report, the fifth since 2003 into this controversial practice, fails to confront these basic points. It buys into the police line that "if appropriately understood and properly applied, the existing fleeing driver policy can provide the necessary balance between public safety and public protection".

Neither culprit nor pursuing officer thinking clearly. Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Neither culprit nor pursuing officer thinking clearly. Illustration / Peter Bromhead

The IPCA says in effect, that with better training and systems, permitting police officers in high-powered cars to go charging off at crazy speeds in pursuit of similarly adrenaline-charged young male drivers, is acceptable.

Yet over the past decade, the police have made regular pledges to upgrade police pursuit training. But the carnage continues. And for every fleeing driver who dies, wrapped around a tree or in a fiery collision, there's also a mentally damaged police officer, often wracked with guilt and post traumatic stress.

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The new report's magic solution is a 10-point regime of continuous review which the pursuing police officer has to undertake before, during and after the chase, whilst also talking with communications staff. All with sirens blaring, tyres squealing, and crashing red lights at breakneck speed.

The report does concede that those involved in a pursuit have significantly elevated heart rates and blood pressure and "that some officers' judgment, decision making and ongoing risk assessment become clouded".

One experienced police officer admitted a high-speed pursuit was "a bit of a brain melter" in the Herald's recent series The Chase. And that's without the additional load being proposed.

The report has no analysis of the past decade's 79 victims, of their ages or what triggered their fatal pursuits. What is more relevant, the report discloses that about a third of pursuits are triggered because of "manner of driving" (non-arrestable offence.) Another 10 per cent are sparked by "suspicious vehicle behaviour". These are not reasons for starting pursuits where one in five cars ends up crashing.

In 1999 Tasmania outlawed police chases except where the offender is high risk or lives are threatened. It's time our parliamentarians ignored the latest report and caught up.