By: Paul Little, www.nxherald.co.nz
A quick look at police pursuits in New Zealand.
In March three people were killed near Nelson as the result of a police pursuit of a vehicle. Two of the dead were being chased, the third was the person they crashed into, who was described in reports as “uninvolved in the chase”.
Except that they were.
If you can describe someone who’s been killed in a police chase as uninvolved, then you don’t really understand what’s going on when cops pursue someone.
The police were also involved, but none of them were killed. They seldom are.
But other people increasingly are. Last week and 15-year-old and a 12-year-old lost their lives while being pursued by police.
“Fleeing driver events” as they are called to shift attention away from the police’s part in them, have increased by 80 percent between 2012 and 2017.
Deaths – or as the authorities would probably prefer them to be called “vehicle inhabitant cessation events” – went up by 500 percent between 2014 and 2017 – from 2 to 10. We don’t appear to have figures for how many people have been killed by drivers of vehicles in cases where the police chose not to pursue them. Possibly on the low side.
Drivers “must take more responsibility”, say the police. I could be wrong about this but my instinct is that the sort of people who will get themselves into this sort of mess are not the sort to stop and make a benefit/risk analysis of the action they are considering. This is in no way admirable, but it is reality.
Maybe the police could take more responsibility, too, unless it’s a case where they have good reason to believe people will be killed if they don’t give chase.
They could emulate their counterparts in many overseas jurisdictions who indulge in such actions only rarely.
It’s not just innocent people getting killed we should worry about.
The “guilty” parties who die in these crashes do not qualify for that label. They have seldom been convicted under the legal system we have developed over centuries to ensure everyone is treated fairly and the law we live by is not that of the jungle.
No one should be tried, convicted and sentenced in the split second it takes a cop to plant his or her boot, but their impetuosity gets plenty of support because it feeds into our punitive mindset when it comes to crime. They brought it on themselves. Maybe. But even if they did, we don’t have a death penalty.
Police already acquire a lot of power when they put on their uniform and it can be a challenge for anyone to exercise such power responsibly.
No one wants offenders to “get away with it”, but there are alternatives when it comes to catching up with someone.
In many cases, their cars aren’t stolen or the country cops know who they are.
New GPS tracking technology has the potential to remove the need for pursuits.
And if the people I see using their drones to annoy other people down the park can afford them, perhaps the police could shout themselves a couple of those high-tech toys for this purpose.
With some of the new alternatives, the police would still get to have lots of high-tech fun.
An American company has developed a tracking device called StarChase – coolest name ever – which “consists of a launcher mounted on the front of the police vehicle, loaded with two projectiles and a laser aimer”.
Cops follow the vehicle’s progress on their computers rather than on the road and catch up with it at their leisure.
Trialed in Arizona the device had a 100 percent success rate.
It would be a great addition to the police’s resources and have the added benefit of reducing deaths.
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