Wellington Scoop

More tolerance? Or more deaths?

Only two days after Wellington police announced they were being more tolerant to drivers who were breaking the law, a woman passenger died in a car that crashed while it was being pursued by police in Palmerston North. It was the third such death last month.

Eight days before the announcement, a Porirua teenager had died in a similar incident – a car crashed when it was being chased by the police.

On May 7, when police reported the first of the three deaths which followed a pursuit, they said

“The last thing any Police officer wants to have happen when they are on shift is for any incident to end in a fatality. However, it is a sad fact that sometimes they do. Our staff always assess the risk of whether or not to pursue a driver who fails to stop for Police, and continue to monitor risk factors throughout. We take these decisions very seriously, and need to maintain a balance between ensuring public safety, and upholding the law.”

When the announcement of the policy to be kinder and more tolerant (our words) to offending motorists was made at the end of last month, the police wording was:

… staff are having great success with alternative resolutions for some drivers.

Three examples of “alternative resolutions” were given, one of which involved family support. Wellington District Road Policing Manager Jan Craig said

… “an infringement notice is not the only option to achieve road safety goals. It is not about throwing the book at drivers, we want to influence positive change and only issue infringements when absolutely necessary. When officers interact with people at the roadside they decide what action will have the most influence on a driver’s behaviour. Sometimes people just need a chance to step up to be supported to do the right thing. If our officers can help them do that and make our roads safer at the same time, that is a great outcome.”

A “great outcome” that police – knowing about last month’s three fatalities – should no doubt be considering when facing their next decision of whether or not to chase a car containing people who are breaking the law.

As Stuff reported earlier this year,

Queensland has about 44,000 more people than New Zealand – yet it had 3197 fewer police pursuits in 2016. New Zealand had 3323 pursuits that year, resulting in seven deaths, while Queensland had only 126 pursuits and no deaths. Since 2009, no deaths have been officially attributed to pursuits in Queensland, whereas 22 deaths have been attributed to pursuits in New Zealand since 2014. “All Australian policing jurisdictions have variations of a restrictive pursuit policy in place,” the Queensland Police Service said.

Lawyer Deborah Manning told RNZ that a majority of police pursuits are started due to minor offences and she said the threshold needs to be much higher.

In the same RNZ report, Assistant Commissioner for Road Policing Sandra Venables seemed to put the blame on the drivers who were being chased. “Drivers have a choice in whether they choose to flee or stop for officers,” she said.

Perhaps she’s now thinking about the policy of seeking “alternative resolutions” instead of pursuits. Specially if this results in fewer people being killed.

Read also:
Gordon Campbell on police pursuits


  1. Jonny Utzone, 6. June 2018, 9:23

    Police should chase ALL drivers who have or may have committed an offence. That way, everyone knows what the police will do. The current mixed message encourages speeding to avoid the police.

  2. Dave B, 6. June 2018, 13:02

    Tired of seeing the police effectively ‘blamed’ for these incidents. Society needs to send a much stronger message to drivers and would-be drivers that driving is not a game. Unfortunately this message is undermined by lax social attitudes, soft penalties for risky driving-behaviour, and by an advertising and entertainment industry that all too often glorifies speed and danger.

    A good start would be to fit speed-limiters to all road vehicles (except police cars). Speeds in excess of 100Km/h are totally unnecessary except in play-land. If you really need to get somewhere far and fast there is usually the option to fly.

  3. R Murray, 7. June 2018, 14:03

    If I’m driving and doing something wrong, and it doesn’t have to be much (maybe I have 90 demerits) and a Police car signals me to stop, there is little downside to doing a runner if I can get away with it. The fact that I probably won’t and the penalties will be much worse doesn’t figure (like buying Lotto?) That’s the point at which you need to change enforcement. Perhaps Police could just quietly follow the suspect to a stop or have other vehicles collect to box the suspect in.