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 unortunate 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
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 beorethe pursuit.
She now wonders “what i” Bannan
hadn’t been chased at all? “No one was in
danger i they’d just let 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 beore 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
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
. “We couldn’t
speak out publicly because in those days wewould have got transerred to Timbuktu. Ithought, this is ridiculous… We were really
rustrated — we wanted to still chase.”
The association predicted anarchy, andor 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 dierent that a ban works therebut wouldn’t here, the Police Minister says:
“They’re Tasmanians. They have a dier-
ent culture, dierent makeup, dierent
heritage. They have a Green government.”
ccordinG to australian
road saety 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 enorcement
“It’s a total contradiction or police to be
engaging in them when they’re supposed
to be improving road saety.”
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 tracoence 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 oence involving the im-minent threat o grievous bodily harm ordeath. Chases or trac 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, Calior-
nia, allows pursuits only when drivers are
so impaired they may cause death or seriousinjury, or when violent oending is involved.The IPCA says North American researchsuggests that when “violent-oender-only”
policies are introduced, pursuits and pur-
suit-related injuries and deaths all dra-
matically — but there is no correspondingincrease in crime or vehicle oending.
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 reerred to, it said a ban
wasn’t likely to improve or guarantee publicsaety — 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 dicult, but almost impossible.”
Which sounds exactly like a soundbite rom Police Association head GregO’Connor, who deends pursuits at everyturn. He claims New Zealand has more
pursuits than Australian states simply be-cause here, oenders have “less o a ear o the consequences o an adverse encounter
Asked or evidence o that, he says it’s“personal observations”. “I sit on boards
over there and I’ve discussed this very thing
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
saer, 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 ocers 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 saety 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 identiy them, take out war-
rants and go and arrest them at home,”
“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 halwits 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 ocers 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 ocers could
still pursue or crimes in progress, such as
robbery or murder, “they’re very ew and
“We can’t do it or speeding, drink-driving
or stolen vehicles. The priority o saety
has been accepted and most people airlystrongly support the policy the way it is.”
She says there’s been no impact on tracor other crime. People aren’t drink-drivingor nicking vehicles with impunity, because
they’re still getting caught.
A police spokeswoman in Queensland told
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 lie is simply too high a price
when there are ar saer alternatives.”
Tolley says those states are dierent romis chasing someone. And yet it’s one o the
least eective ways o catching anybody.”
his own experience with red
misting. “It becomes an in-tensely personal battle be-
tween the chasing ocer and
the oender,” he says. Police are meant to
talk continuously throughout the pursuit
to the supervising ocer 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 oender.”He’s sceptical o reports o pursuits calledo just beore 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 ocers
previously at the helm.
“Too much decision-making is let 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 ocer 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 lastor several kilometres, and the concerns o
serving ocers are well known.”
Deputy Commissioner Mike Bush says
that while the ormer ocer was right about
the timing o the switch to digital radio,
he did not believe that had contributed topursuit crashes.Figures supplied to
under the O-
fcial Inormation 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 dierent 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 Gg-hk.