Police pursuits don’t get much more dramatic (at least, not in Australia) than the one yesterday in Queensland. A 23-year-old man in a stolen Porsche Boxster caused utter havoc in the course of the two-hour pursuit, which stretched across some of Queensland’s busiest roads including the M1 Motorway.
Two stolen cars – the Boxster and a Nissan Navara stolen by ‘our hero’ after he totalled the Boxster – were trashed. The pursuit hit speeds up to 150km/h and included at least one ‘wrong way down the M1 on-ramp’ incident and several out-of-control runoffs onto the footpath.
It was sheer luck that neither the cops nor innocent bystanders were injured or killed. The potential danger was off the scale.
The pursuit covered more than 100km, crossed multiple suburbs and was discontinued several times after outrageously dangerous driving behaviour, such as red-light running, footpath jumping, and wrong-way driving, forced police to back off. The Channel 7 helicopter helped police pick up the trail at one point, and also captured some superb video footage, which you can watch above.
The driver lost one front wheel on the Boxster but continued to drive (the wheel hit an oncoming car – put yourself in that driver’s position and thank your lucky stars it wasn’t airborne, bouncing at windscreen height at the moment of impact). The Boxster, driving on three wheels, caught fire and ultimately spun out of control.
This would be enough for many to flee, but this bloke (who rates 13 out of 10 on the scumbag-ometer in my view) then fled on foot, carjacked a Nissan Navara ute and backed up for a encore performance, finally hitting a tree and narrowly failing to injure several police officers attempting to contain him on foot.
Above: US offenders understand the importance of ‘please’, and ‘sir’ … even in this position
At least the driver finally copped the recommended daily allowance of pepper spray for his troubles. (This is probably the worst punishment he’ll face – he’s been charged only with the dangerous and unauthorised use of a motor vehicle, which seems something of a slap on the wrist to me.) At least NSW has the so-called Skye’s Law, which makes it a crime to flee the cops in a vehicle.
Police pursuits is a perennial ‘dammed if you do/don’t’ scenario. However, it seems to me the potential danger posed to society from a two-hour, 100km pursuit across much of a city grossly outweighs the benefit of apprehending a car thief. Especially if an alternative means of apprehension were possible, such as using the chopper to see where he went, and swooping on him then – with the video as evidence.
Above: Very few Aussie car thieves end up with this outlook on life
I’m not suggesting that we give car thieves a free pass, as it were. All I’m saying is that the net benefit to society would have been grossly negative had the cops apprehended a car thief and mum with a pram had been cleaned up on the footpath as a consequence.
In the USA, of course, the police play the game of pursuit as if it were an extreme sport. At times it appears as if shotguns are routinely fired at offenders, cars are nudged from the rear, mid-corner. Three or more police cruisers form ‘rolling roadblocks’ to box in offenders. Et cetera. Sometimes it’s better than Hollywood.
Above: US police treat pursuits as an extreme sport
We don’t do any of that here. Basically, here in the land of copping it on the chin, Aussie police just follow those who flee. They stop pursuing if anyone in the chain of command decides the pursuit is too dangerous. The offender can basically keep going until he either crashes or gives up, which is why scumbag offenders are allowed to lead the cops on absurdly long pursuits, with the danger to the general public well into the ‘red’ zone.
Check the number of times in the Channel 7 video news report that the bloke fleeing the cops careers onto the footpath – it’s just dumb luck that there wasn’t a mother with two kids walking there at the wrong time and place…
What you’re looking at is a lowlife with no driving skill and even less social conscience.
Above: An over-zealous method of dealing with offenders … except maybe in Afghanistan
This column is absolutely not a dig at the cops – pursuits must be a highly stressful, dangerous undertaking. There must be a million ways to get it wrong, and very few ways to get it right. Even if the guy crashes and is hurt or killed, with no innocent parties injured, it’s unlikely the officers chasing would view it as an emotionally uplifting event (because life’s not a video game). There would also be the significant occupational stress of the subsequent inquiry, and the second-guessing of having every operational decision heavily scrutinised after the fact by others (often by others lacking operational experience) to contend with. Giving evidence at a coronial enquiry probably isn’t emotionally uplifting, either.
What do you think we should do? Should we discontinue pursuing in all but the most serious cases – abductions, rapes, murders, etc., – but cease them in the case of minor (ie non-criminal) offences? Or should we give the cops even more powers to conduct shorter, sharper, more robust pursuits – ones that don’t stretch for two hours and place hundreds of innocent people at risk?
Above: Even in the USA, police pursuits don’t always conform to the playbook
The cops have strict protocols for pursuit. If they step outside them they’re breaching police policy and might be subject to internal disciplinary procedures. If they go outside them and someone dies as a result, and it’s later determined that their driving behaviour constitutes an act of dangerous driving occasioning death, the consequences can be extreme for the officer(s) involved. See, police are allowed to break traffic laws in the course of executing their duties, but killing someone while driving dangerously isn’t a traffic offence. It’s a crime, and officers go to prison for crimes just like the rest of us (although the prison experience for police is likely to be even less pleasant).
The cops, sadly, are not the only ones who know the strict pursuit protocols. It’s taught regularly at every branch of scumbag university (also known as ‘prison’) – in fact it’s a core subject in the curriculum. This is why experienced crooks turn the headlights off at night and drive at high speed on the wrong side of the road the minute the police activate the lights and sirens – they know the pursuing officers will be obliged to call off the pursuit because of the extreme danger such behaviour poses. In effect the bad guys are waging war in the manner prescribed by the Viet Cong or the Taliban – they’re using the good guys’ rules of engagement against them.
Above: Another octane-fuelled carrot-thief brought to justice during a routine roadside stop in the USA
Please use the comments process below to tell us what you think the cops should do to manage future pursuits. How would you see the system changed? Should they ramp up the aggression and shut pursuits down sooner, or back right off and cease most pursuits in the interest of public safety? Or are you happy with the way pursuits are currently managed?
In the United States (where you really are at risk of getting a bullet in your head for your trouble if you flee) people generally display greater respect for the law. (Perhaps we don’t because of our convict heritage… but it’s probably because rudeness isn’t something the cops can punish here.) Last week in Pueblo, Colorado, a lone police officer pulled over a car with a 37-year-old man and a 36-year-old woman inside, on I-25 – a major route north from Juarez, Mexico. The pair pulled over. Immediately. That’s respect. Especially considering they had 100 kilos of cocaine in the boot (sorry: the ‘trunk’). It was packed neatly in 1kg bricks inside duffel bags. Street value: US$10 million. It was subsequently discovered by a police dog.
Do you reckon those people would have stopped on some remote highway in Australia? Or would there be an each-way bet on getting away with it? (Actually, it’s better than an each-way bet: the vast majority of police pursuits here fail to apprehend those who flee.)
Tell us what you think.