Victorian Police assistant commissioner Robert Hill said this week that an “extensive review” of its Pursuit Policy showed that a balance must be struck in order to ensure lives are protected.
“In all pursuits, the first priority is the safety of all persons involved, including the occupants of the fleeing vehicle, other road users, members of the community and police,” Hill said.
He said that a revised policy will call on officers to consider alternatives to pursuit, “in all but the most serious cases”.
“Offenders involved in pursuits are often known to police and, in many cases, it is possible to apprehend them at a later stage by using an investigative approach without the need to engage in a pursuit.”
Hill highlighted helicopter support from the Police Air Wing as a standout alternative, enabling observation of the offending vehicle from a distance.
The revised policy’s introduction follows a Coroner report carried out in 2013, in response to 13 deaths and 28 injuries linked to police pursuits over the previous five years.
The report recommended that officers only engage in pursuit if there is “a serious risk to public health and safety”, or in response to a serious criminal offence that has or is about to be committed.
It was also recommended that Victoria Police’s risk assessment model be reviewed, allowing officers to more easily determine if pursuit is required.
In response to that latter recommendation, Victoria Police has confirmed a new model that calls on officers to consider alternatives to immediate apprehension.
Officers are expected to avoid pursuit unless they believe there is an urgent need to apprehend the offender and that alternative methods are not available or feasible.
Pursuit must then only be undertaken if the officers believe that “the overall harm they are seeking to prevent is greater than the risks involved in conducting the pursuit”.
In ordinary circumstances, a pursuit must not be initiated for any property-related or minor traffic offences.
Speaking with radio station 3AW, Hill said that most officers are already making the right decision.
“We've got police members making good solid decisions now where they terminate pursuits because the risk are so great - close to 70 per cent of occasions members are saying no I am not pursuing this particular vehicle.”
Victoria Police data shows that there were 1700 pursuits in 2014 and 1300 in 2013.