Former police negotiator on ram raids, youth crime and police pursuits

A u-turn on police’s pursuit policy to combat ram raids and youth crime would be a “recipe for disaster”, says a former police negotiator

National’s police spokesperson Mark Mitchell asked Police Minister Poto Williams in Parliament this week if she was confident the change in the police pursuit policy has not led to an increase in ram raids.

A number of ram raids and retail crimes involving young people have been reported recently. Police data showed 88 per cent of ram raid offenders were under 20 and the majority were under 17.

While the ages of the offenders aren’t known, a group of people drove through Auckland’s Ormiston Town Centre shopping centre ram raiding shops last month.

Meanwhile, police were shocked when they found four children, aged 7,10,11 and 12, holding stolen toys at the Chartwell Shopping Centre in Hamilton during an attempted break-in late last month.

Also last month, police caught a group of young people, the youngest aged 12, breaking into cars on Kāpiti Coast.

Youth workers have warned against coming down hard on children involved in a spate of ram raids – saying they need help, not harsher punishment.

The police pursuits policy was changed in 2020 in the wake of 63 pursuits-related deaths within a decade. Police only chase fleeing drivers if there is a threat before the start of the pursuit and if there is a need for the person to be apprehended immediately.

Former police negotiator Lance Burdett, who also worked as a pursuit controller in the 111 call centre, said since the pursuits policy came out, no one had died.

“You can’t have it continuing on because too many young people are dying, needlessly.”

Burdett said young people often enjoyed risk-taking, did not foresee consequences and tended to experience adrenaline while committing the crimes.

“You’ve got a ticking time bomb. You add a police chase to all of that then it’s just a recipe for disaster.”

Police Minister Poto Williams said during Parliament’s question time this week the ram raid incidents were shocking and incredibly distressing for those affected.

She also said there was no evidence the current pursuit policy had led to an increase in ram raid incidents.

“While the police pursuits policy has changed, that does not mean that the police follow up of those involved has changed – it has not.

“Police do follow up where they have the evidence to do so. The change to the policy pursuits policy is about saving lives and it has worked.”

Williams said youth crime had been trending down since 2017. Ram raid incidents made up about 1 per cent of all retail crime and six out of 10 times it was young people involved.

One hundred and nine more police officers had been moved into the youth space and a retail crime unit was being set up, Williams said.

A police media spokesperson said it was very rare for an officer would know the age of the driver who had been signalled to stop.

“Police staff always assess the risk of pursuing fleeing drivers, and take every decision very seriously.

“The risk is continually reassessed throughout the fleeing driver event and police will abandon a pursuit if the risk is assessed as too dangerous.

“If police can see the driver and/or passengers are young, or ages are subsequently established, this would become part of the risk assessment.”

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