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Tougher penalties needed for fleeing drivers - police

Thursday 14 Jan 2010 5:55 p.m.

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By Emma Joliff

Police have named the motorcyclist who died following a police chase in Wellington last night.

He was 28-year-old Leith Barnes from Timaru.

It is yet another fatality after a police chase, and the Police Association is backing calls from their Australian counterparts for jail terms for those who spark the pursuits.

Barnes died after his motorbike plunged down a bank in Newlands. A witness who saw him earlier estimated he had been travelling at 150kmph – and he was being pursued by police.

Pursuit police is about balancing the power of danger of leaving someone on the roads against the danger of trying to stop them, the Police Association says.

“The more quickly they force police officers to pull out of chases, the more we incentivise people to actually continue to run from police,” says Police Association president Greg O’Connor.

He admits it is a difficult problem to resolve.

A Christchurch motorcyclist died after sliding on wet leaves and hitting a parked car while being chased by police. In Palmerston North, a teenager died after he was fleeing police chasing him in connection with petrol theft and a domestic incident.

“Essentially there is no answer,” says Mr O’Connor.

Police say they make 3.5 million traffic stops each year, and the number of pursuits resulting from these stops is actually decreasing. They say in 99 percent of cases, pursuits don’t result in injury or incident.

In Australia, Victorian police are unanimously backing a call for mandatory three year jail terms for adults evading police for minor offences.

In Flemington, Melbourne, police are involved in a chase every three weeks.

“We believe the sentences issued by the judiciary with respect to police pursuits, generally do not reflect the serious nature of the offence,” says Detective Sergeant Trent Atkins of Flemington Police.

New Zealand’s Police Association says penalties here are too soft.

“A jail term, vehicle confiscation, sanctions that are meaningful – the word will get around the criminal community,” says Mr O’Connor.

He says there is currently a penalty of $10,000 for fleeing drivers, but it is almost never imposed.

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