Sunday, July 13, 2008

Curb Justice

Cop killing boosts tougher chase laws
Support is mounting for harsher penalties on drivers who fail to stop when pursued by police. Policies governing such pursuits have come under the spotlight after the death of Porirua police sergeant Derek Wootton, 52. He was struck and killed by a car on Friday as he laid road spikes in Titahi Bay during a high-speed police chase. A 32-year-old man was remanded in custody. He faces charges including dangerous driving causing death. National Party police spokesman Chester Borrows said a new aggravated dangerous driving charge could help stop deaths during police pursuits, letting police seize vehicles and impose instant fines. He has written draft legislation but it has yet to be approved by his caucus colleagues. Police Association spokesman Greg O'Connor said such laws would be supported. The association will issue a policy document in Parliament on July 22 seeking political backing for the changes.

The death of a Police Officer on duty is always a shocking and saddening event, all of society is effected negatively by it, but to attempt to use loss of life as a reason to expand police powers with little debate is a tactic that leads to bad policy becoming implemented. This is a bad idea for the following reasons – you can’t allow a situation to develop where the road side cop has all the powers of the executive in one and allowing them the power to seize vehicles without any judicial oversight creates a very one sided view of process. There is also the effect of these laws, I was vocally opposed to boy racer legislation that tried to push for these recommendations in 2003, if the problem is police chases, what effect will the knowledge that the cop who arrests you will seize your vehicle immediately have on the average 18 year old NZ male? Will the Male a) pull over, apologise to the Police Officer and hand over the keys to his precious car or b) try and drive off? Seeing as the majority of deaths from Police chases are in fact the public and not the Police Officers, using a Police Death as the reason to look at procedure over and above the much higher level of public fatalities seems a touch churlish on the behalf of the Chester Borrows. Perhaps we need to look at the level of training given to chase suspects, in NZ it is a couple of weeks, in the UK it is 3 months. The Police have to have the powers to chase and catch suspects, but when those powers could in fact exacerbate the problem and they are pushed through in the emotionally charged environment where a Police Officer has lost his life, I doubt deeply that this is the best time to debate this issue.