Police were wrong to pursue a Toyota stolen by five youths in an aggravated robbery, an independent watchdog has ruled.

It says "at no stage did police follow the correct procedure for the commencement of a pursuit" during the more than 40km chase.

And, it found "excessive force" was used in the arrest of the youths, two of whom were bitten by a police dog.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has today released a decision on an inquiry into a pursuit in September 2017.

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It found police should not have given chase - and that officers had even been told not to at the time.

At 10.33am on September 21 2017, five male youths approached a silver Toyota Estima van with a female sitting in the driver's seat.

Holding a weapon, they forced her from the car, threatened and physically assaulted her before driving away.

Independent Police Complaints Authority chair Judge Colin Doherty. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Independent Police Complaints Authority chair Judge Colin Doherty. Photo / Mark Mitchell

At 11am the next day the vehicle's licence plate activated several automatic number plate recognition sites in the Clevedon area.

The police Eagle helicopter was deployed to find and track the stolen car.

One officer began to follow the Toyota in his patrol car while two others set up
road spikes on Alfriston Rd.

The youth driving the Toyota drove on to the footpath to avoid the spikes, forcing one officer to run out of the way so as not to be hit.

The driver continued on towards a roundabout and road spikes were used again, this time puncturing a back tyre.

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The driver put his foot down, increasing his speed to 120km/h and overtaking cars by driving on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic.

He ran a red light and entered the Southern Motorway, travelling the wrong way against heavy traffic for approximately 9km.

Eagle maintained observation of the vehicle and could see pieces of rubber flying off the tyre and the passengers in the window gesturing towards the helicopter.

The Toyota exited the motorway at the Otara Rd on-ramp and drove onto Bairds Rd.

Four police patrol cars then followed the Toyota through a residential area.

Police attempted a moving block to stop the car but failed.

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

They then tried "nudge the Toyota off the road" but that manoeuvre was also unsuccessful.

At this point, while the car was on Great South Rd, the shift commander ordered police to abandon the pursuit - which officially lasted about 33 minutes and covered about 40.4km.

Shortly after, the Toyota came to a stop outside a residential address and the occupants ran from the vehicle.

A police dog handler saw the driver start to exit the stolen car and pulled his own vehicle up beside it to prevent him escaping.

He hit the driver with his car, and he "bounced off the bonnet".

Police arrested two of the occupants by the Toyota.

The driver and the other two occupants jumped over a fence and ran into a golf course behind the residential area.

They were pursued on foot and the driver was bitten by a police dog before he surrendered.

The dog also bit a second occupant fleeing the scene.

Police investigated the actions of all the officers and made a number of findings and recommendations - including that the preferred approach for the shift commander would have been "not to pursue, instead giving the offenders the opportunity to
dump the car and run and then using Eagle to assist in locating and arresting them".

Superintendent Dave Glossop. Photo / NZ Herald
Superintendent Dave Glossop. Photo / NZ Herald

IPCA chairman Judge Colin Doherty found that the shift commander authorised the use of road spikes to stop the Toyota even though police had not signalled for the Toyota to stop.

"The Toyota's driving became erratic after the first failed spiking attempt, and shortly after its rear left tyre was successfully spiked," he said in the decision, released this morning.

"The shift commander directed that officers were not to engage the Toyota in a pursuit.

"Despite this, at least two police cars followed close behind it and the authority found that a pursuit commenced when one of those cars turned on its flashing lights and siren.

"At no stage did police follow the correct procedure for the commencement of a pursuit."

Judge Doherty said after the order was given to abandon the pursuit, officers continued to give chase.

"In contravention of police policy, officers continued to pursue the Toyota at speed," he said.

"Police should not have conducted a pursuit.

"The police helicopter was tracking the Toyota and could have continued to do so to assist in apprehending the occupants.

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

"Engaging in a vehicle pursuit so late on a Friday morning, when there was substantial traffic on the roads, placed members of the public, police and the young people in the stolen car at unnecessary and ongoing risk.

"Police failed to formulate a suitable plan; the number of cars involved in the incident and the tactics employed were inappropriate and only served to increase the risk to everyone."

The authority found that the shift commander failed in his command and control responsibilities.

"This created an atmosphere of confusion and was a significant contributing factor in the poor tactical decisions made by other officers involved in the incident," said Judge Doherty.

"A police dog handler used his dog to help with the arrest of two of the young people.

"One suffered injuries resulting in his hospitalisation, and the authority found that the use of the dog was an excessive use of force."

In a statement, police said they acknowledged the findings.

They said the pursuit followed a "violent and random attack on an innocent member of the public".

"The offenders involved in the pursuit and aggravated robbery were aged between 13 and 15 at the time of the incidents and faced a range of serious charges including aggravated robbery, and endangering transport," said Tamaki Makaurau acting deployment manager Superintendent Dave Glossop

"They were dealt with through the Youth Court."

Glossop said police acknowledge there were elements of this pursuit which "could have been managed better" and that included better communication from the shift commander, who was controlling the incident.

"This was a fast-moving and complex incident and our officers had to make spilt-second decisions in a situation involving very dangerous offenders," said Glossop.

"The intent of our staff was to locate and apprehend these offenders who were involved in a violent aggravated robbery and ensure there was no further harm to our community.

"Ultimately in pursuits it is the offenders who choose not to stop for police and in doing so put themselves, police staff and members of the community at risk.

"In this case, the offenders were driving on the wrong side of the motorway.

"It is through sheer luck that innocent members of our community were not seriously injured."

Glossop said police had noted the IPCA's comments and taken their feedback on board for the future.

"In any situation like this there are always learnings for police and we continuously look for opportunities to better manage critical incidents."

He said police did not agree that excessive force was used regarding the police dog.

"The IPCA also found that one of the officers involved was justified in deploying his dog to assist in the arrest of one of the youths, to ensure he did not escape.

"Police do not agree with the IPCA's findings that the time the dog handler allowed the dog to bite was excessive, and was unreasonable use of force.

"The dog handler believed the offender was carrying a weapon and he feared for his and his dog's safety.

"We have communicated the lessons learned from this incident to the staff involved."