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Death by Police

Death by Police

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Published by Metro magazine
From Metro, September 2012: In New Zealand in just five years, 33 people — most of them kids who’ve made a terrible mistake, and innocent bystanders — have been killed in high-speed pursuits. Is it time to ban them? By Donna Chisholm. Photos by Adrian Malloch.
From Metro, September 2012: In New Zealand in just five years, 33 people — most of them kids who’ve made a terrible mistake, and innocent bystanders — have been killed in high-speed pursuits. Is it time to ban them? By Donna Chisholm. Photos by Adrian Malloch.

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Published by: Metro magazine on Mar 03, 2013
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56 September 2012 September 2012 57
In Nw Zaland in jus fv yas, 33 ol — os o h kidswho’v ad a il isak, and innocn ysands —hav n killd in high-sd usuis. Is i i o an h?
ith the speedo
on the sto-len Subaru Legacy nudging200km/h and the police in
pursuit with their lights ash-ing, Te Rina Gregory-Hawke
wondered, briey, i she should just openthe passenger door and jump.She had already rejected the idea by the
time she elt the car — driven by 19-year-old
Sina Naraghizadeh — begin to slide side-
ways. “Everyone was panicking. [Sina] wasscared, panicking. I was sitting behind him
and I had my hand on his shoulder. I was
saying ‘Stop!’ We were going real ast. I waslooking over his shoulder and I could see the
Death
by police
[speedometer] going higher and higher andhigher. I could eel the car swerving, slowly.
Then I saw the lamppost and I thought,
‘Oh my God, that pole is going to get me.’”
Hawke closed her eyes and prepared
to die.
The 1am smash in Hobsonville killed
Naraghizadeh and let Gregory-Hawke —
who was hanging upside down in the over-
turned wreck when she came to — in hos-pital or six weeks with a shattered pelvis,
three broken ribs and a broken collarbone.
At 16, she has let Selwyn College and is
having weekly counselling. “I blamed every-one in the car, including mysel,” she says.
unattering comparisons between New
Zealand’s record o pursuit crashes, deaths
and injuries and Australia’s, where two
states have already moved to ban pursuits
or trac oences and stolen cars.Consider this:New Zealand police chase between2000 and 2500 vehicles every year —three times as many as in Victoria, whichhas a million more people, and seventimes as many as Queensland, with aroughly similar population.In Queensland, 11 people died inpursuits in the decade to 2010. In NewZealand in just fve years (2007-2011),33 people died. And yet Queenslandmoved this year to all but ban pursuitsbecause o the unacceptable risk topublic saety.Even beore its new policy came in,Queensland abandoned around 73 percent o chases, compared to NewZealand’s 48 per cent.Tasmania, which banned pursuits in1999, says the move has not resulted inany increase in road or other crimes, de-spite claims that “anarchy” would ensue.
With another crash in Gisborne in Julyclaiming three more young lives ateran abandoned pursuit, lawyer Deborah
The crash on a Sunday morning last Sep-tember made ront-page news but most o 
us soon orgot about it. There wasn’t toomuch sympathy or a bunch o teenagersin a stolen car driven by some kid with aoreign name who’d been drinking andsmoking cannabis — particularly when
the country was in the throes o the Rugby
World Cup.
And yet the case — believed to be only thesecond pursuit death to go to the Coroner’s
Court — could orce a rethink on chase
policy, with the amily engaging lawyers toquestion police protocols around pursuits.
 Metro
investigations have uncovered
 W 
    N    Z    h    e    r    a    l    d
Manning, who’s advising the amilies o 
teens in the Hobsonville accident, says it’stime or another look at chase laws. “Really
serious questions need to be asked about
the number o young people dying or the
relatively minor oence they committedat the beginning — and the relative
predictability o that being the outcome.”Police would have seen the Hobsonville
car, a stationwagon, was ull o youngpeople — at one stage there were seven,
including two in the boot, but two got out
at a shopping centre beore the crash. “It’s
a high-risk approach to be chasing a car
when it’s packed ull o kids,” Manning says.
But it seems there’ll be no reassessment
with Police Minister Anne Tolley at the
helm. She says pursuits aren’t a problem —they are subject to rigorous risk assessment,
and New Zealanders have no stomach ora ban.
“They believe and stress to me they want
our police to uphold the rule o law,” Tol-
ley says. “They want oenders brought
to justice.”
T
he Gisborne pursuit
wasn’t
really a pursuit at all, shesays, because it lasted only30 seconds beore being
abandoned. The police saidthe chase went or 90 seconds and the crash
happened minutes later.
“You’re making the police the bad guys,”she says. “The people who are eeing police
are the bad guys.”
It’s easy to condemn Sina Naraghizadeh
or his oending and his passengers or
their stupidity, but how many o us know
a teenager who’s never made a dumbdecision, who’s never climbed into a car
with a driver they shouldn’t have trusted,
who’s never pushed the boundaries with
hormone-driven recklessness?
And i that kid were yours, would it beso easy to say he deserved to die or that
bad call?
Tolley says i her daughter ever ound
hersel in a car eeing police, “I’d want her
to convince the driver to stop.”
Well, tell that to Te Rina Gregory-Hawkeand the surviving passenger in the Gisbornecrash, who tried the same thing and ailed.The only time police pursuit deaths cause
a real outcry here is when the victims are
“innocents”. That happened in Christ-church in 2010 — our blackest year, with
18 deaths in 11 pursuits — when 73-year-oldNorm Fitt and his gym partner, 67-year-oldDeidre “Dee” Jordan, died. Fitt’s Daihatsu
Terios was hit and ipped by Phillip Ban-
nan, 22, a drunk and disqualifed driver
eeing rom police.
Adult children o the pair spoke thenabout how they were pleased police were
cleared o wrongdoing and how any blame
or the crash lay squarely with Bannan.
Two years on, Steve Fitt says he still
Story
Donna Chisholm
photography
aDrian malloCh
Pc d gc c tt c  t pt c h t  tt kd sngzd d  jdT r Gg-hk.
 
police pursuits
58 September 2012 September 2012 59
believes pursuits are worth the risk — and
he thinks his dad would agree.
“Otherwise you are encouraging anarchy.The outcome was unortunate but it’s still
the right thing to do.”
His sister Marika spoke at the uneral,thanking police or trying to prevent a
horrible accident. “I knew they were doingthe best they could to protect the public.”
But she now admits she has doubts.“A little part o me wonders i it can be
handled dierently.”
She says that although Bannan was speed-
ing and driving drunk — he was twice thelegal limit — he had driven an hour and ahal rom Akaroa without incident beorethe pursuit.
She now wonders “what i” Bannan
hadn’t been chased at all? “No one was in
danger i they’d just let him. There weren’t
that many cars on the road and maybe I
think he wouldn’t have panicked as muchas he did. He didn’t have a licence, his car
was unregistered and unwarranted. He’s
going to be looking in his rear-vision mirror
because he’s scared shitless.”
It’s likely pursuing police knew Bannan’sidentity — they had pulled up behind him ata red light when they would have (or could
have) — taken his number plate, allowingthem to fnd and arrest him later.
As it was, they abandoned their chaseonly 30 seconds later when they saw his
Ford Mondeo speeding towards a red lightat the intersection o Worcester St, just oneblock beore he hit Norm Fitt’s car. Researchshows early abandonment o pursuits does
not mean the risk ends there; once a pur-suit is started, eeing motorists continue
driving at dangerously high speeds or
some time later.Steve Fitt’s view, that banning pursuits
would simply encourage lawlessness, is
widely backed by the public and lawmak-ers. “Too much emphasis is now given to
criminals’ rights and not the police,” he
says.“By being uncooperative and not be-
ing a good citizen, they [lawbreakers] arelet o with more and more things.”
Bannan, who’d had two previous drink-
drive convictions and was jailed or nine
years or manslaughter, was simply a piss-
head loser, says Fitt.Few o us would disagree with that, but
what o Fitt’s view that police have noalternative but to give chase i they seea speeding or stolen car or a suspected
drink-driver?
Police in Tasmania say their ban is work-ing well — a view held also by their union,
the Police Association, which was once
rabidly opposed to banning pursuits.
“We were all dead against it, withoutdoubt,” acting association presidentRobbie Dunn told
 Metro
. “We couldn’t
speak out publicly because in those days wewould have got transerred to Timbuktu. Ithought, this is ridiculous… We were really
rustrated — we wanted to still chase.”
The association predicted anarchy, andor a while, police were taunted by carloadso hoons doing doughnuts outside the localcopshops and driving o brandishing the
middle fnger. But, says Dunn, the early
ears haven’t been realised.
“At times people get away with it, but
New Zealand. Asked how Tasmania was soinherently dierent that a ban works therebut wouldn’t here, the Police Minister says:
“They’re Tasmanians. They have a dier-
ent culture, dierent makeup, dierent
heritage. They have a Green government.”
 A 
ccordinG to australian
road saety campaigner JohnLambert, pursuits are “basi-
cally the most hazardousactivity you can undertake
on roads legally”.
Lambert advocates banning them. What
does he say to opponents who argue that
the ban “gives in to criminals”?
He points out that only about one in10,000 vehicle interceptions results indrivers doing a runner. “I you do away
with chasing, you’re talking about a very
low percentage o on-road enorcement
activities.
“It’s a total contradiction or police to be
engaging in them when they’re supposed
to be improving road saety.”
The atality rate or pursuits is 3500 timeshigher than or normal travel and about 650times higher than or someone driving with
double the legal alcohol limit.
Says Lambert: “The death penalty disap-
peared a long time ago and you can’t be
generating a situation where you’re likely
to cause someone who’s committed a tracoence in a stolen vehicle to die — or even
worse, an innocent bystander.
While the Independent Police ConductAuthority (IPCA) describes New Zealand’spursuit policies as “restrictive” and in linewith the international mainstream, it’s notjust Australia which is moving closer to bans.In 2007, Victoria, Canada, brought in apolicy that police had to believe a driver orpassenger had committed or was about tocommit a serious oence involving the im-minent threat o grievous bodily harm ordeath. Chases or trac or property crimeswere prohibited — a move expected to reducepursuits by 90 per cent.
In Boston, police are allowed to chase a
vehicle being driven in a way that “poses
threat or harm”, and Long Beach, Calior-
nia, allows pursuits only when drivers are
so impaired they may cause death or seriousinjury, or when violent oending is involved.The IPCA says North American researchsuggests that when “violent-oender-only”
policies are introduced, pursuits and pur-
suit-related injuries and deaths all dra-
matically — but there is no correspondingincrease in crime or vehicle oending.
So why couldn’t these policies work here?
Partly because police don’t think they
could and, as Tolley says, there’s no public
or political appetite or it.In a review o policy in 2010, the orce’s
Road Policing Support team said there wasstill too little evidence to support a ban on
pursuits. Despite the international expe-rience the IPCA reerred to, it said a ban
wasn’t likely to improve or guarantee publicsaety — and the community wouldn’t sup-
port such a move anyway.
And, in direct contradiction o the evi-
dence in the IPCA’s review, it said: “Banning
pursuits has the potential to create a level
o lawlessness within the community. I 
criminals know that police will not pursuethem, or have so many restrictions placed
on them it renders pursuits utile, then
the job o police to uphold the law not onlybecomes dicult, but almost impossible.”
Which sounds exactly like a soundbite rom Police Association head GregO’Connor, who deends pursuits at everyturn. He claims New Zealand has more
pursuits than Australian states simply be-cause here, oenders have “less o a ear o the consequences o an adverse encounter
with police”.
Asked or evidence o that, he says it’s“personal observations”. “I sit on boards
over there and I’ve discussed this very thing
with them.”
O’Connor concedes he simply doesn’tknow i a ban would work here. But, hesays, “i anyone believes that i we pulledover only people who agreed to stop andlet the others go it would make the roads
saer, it’s a little counter-intuitive”.
Strict protocols around what police must
do in a chase — including giving pursuitcontrollers in the communications cen-tre rather than patrol-car drivers overallresponsibility — are designed to mitigate
the risk o so-called “red misting”. This was
described in a British inquiry in 2001 into
pursuit deaths where ocers told o a “red
mist o rage and excitement” overcomingsome drivers chasing a eeing vehicle.
One o this country’s ew public critics o police pursuits, road saety campaigner and
Dog and Lemon Guide
editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, reckons police chase because they
enjoy the thrill o it.
“Part o it is because they hate seeingpeople get away, and that’s natural, but
police work by and large is very boring and
one o the ew things that’s really exciting
“iT’s a ToTalConTraDiCTionfor PoliCe To beenGaGeD in Themwhen They’resuPPoseD To beimProvinG roaDsafeTy.”
in the end we identiy them, take out war-
rants and go and arrest them at home,”
Dunn says.
“I’ve changed my mind about it personally.I innocent people are going to get killed, is
it worth it? Now I don’t think it is. I don’t
want to see my people chasing these bloody
16-year-old halwits who can’t really drive
anyway and having to live with some decentkid or granny being killed when they’ve gone
through a red light and hit them.”
Many new ocers have never been in-
volved in a pursuit “so they don’t realise the
thrill o the chase... they’re not inveteratechasers like we used to be.”
Assistant Commissioner Donna Adams,
crime and operations chie or the Tas-manian police, says while ocers could
still pursue or crimes in progress, such as
robbery or murder, “they’re very ew and
ar between”.
“We can’t do it or speeding, drink-driving
or stolen vehicles. The priority o saety
has been accepted and most people airlystrongly support the policy the way it is.”
She says there’s been no impact on tracor other crime. People aren’t drink-drivingor nicking vehicles with impunity, because
they’re still getting caught.
A police spokeswoman in Queensland told
 Metro
initial analysis suggests the new policy
is working there, too, aided by increasedpenalties or evading police. Greater em-phasis is now on “investigative avenues”rather than dangerous pursuits. “The loss
o an innocent lie is simply too high a price
when there are ar saer alternatives.”
Tolley says those states are dierent romis chasing someone. And yet it’s one o the
least eective ways o catching anybody.”
 A 
former cop
told
 Metro
o 
his own experience with red
misting. “It becomes an in-tensely personal battle be-
tween the chasing ocer and
the oender,” he says. Police are meant to
talk continuously throughout the pursuit
to the supervising ocer in the communi-
cations centre, “but that never happened
in my experience”.
He recalled one chase he took through abuilt-up area when he was travelling at upto 90km/h but advising comms he was do-ing only 50-60km/h. “We lied to keep goingbecause no cop wants to lose an oender.”He’s sceptical o reports o pursuits calledo just beore a crash, saying in some cases
police had arrived at a crash scene justseconds later, raising serious doubts that
the chase had indeed been abandoned.
While a supervisor in the communica-tions centre had ultimate control over apursuit, the ormer policeman said, sta 
had become increasingly “civilianised” andlacked the experience o the sworn ocers
previously at the helm.
“Too much decision-making is let to the
person in the car,” he says. “The chain o 
command still requires an inspector to takeover, but the act most pursuits are over in40-50 seconds means there are many caseswhere a sworn ocer never gets the chance
to take over.”
He wonders i the spike in pursuit deathsin 2010 was related to the switch that year
rom analogue to digital radio systems.
Until then, the lead car in a pursuit would
be routed on to a dedicated channel that
was kept clear or the pursuit. “The switch
to digital doesn’t seem to have gone that
well. There have been black spots that lastor several kilometres, and the concerns o 
serving ocers are well known.”
Deputy Commissioner Mike Bush says
that while the ormer ocer was right about
the timing o the switch to digital radio,
he did not believe that had contributed topursuit crashes.Figures supplied to
 Metro
under the O-
fcial Inormation Act show that while the
number o pursuits has remained airly
static, crashes have declined. Injury rates
have risen, but police say that’s becauseuntil 2009, only those injuries requiringhospital admission were counted; now,
even minor cuts and bruises are included.
Bush says our pursuit fgures may beout o kilter with Australia’s partly be-
cause o dierent defnitions o a pursuitand the act that policing here was “veryintelligence-driven”.
“We will put our sta into areas where we
suspect crimes are being committed. Wedon’t patrol areas randomly and because
o that we’re obviously going to come into
T r Gg-hk.

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