Police reword pursuit policy, but insist it's not a change

Police are playing down reports they've changed their pursuit policy, saying it's just a rewording to ensure the existing policy is being applied consistently.

Stuff reported on Saturday police will no longer pursue drivers who are driving dangerously or fleeing for no apparent reason, and will only give chase if the threat "outweighs the risk of harm by the pursuit".

The news outlet cited an internal police email sent last week, calling for a culture change and more education for officers. 

Police told Newshub a joint review with the Independent Police Conduct Authority last year found their policy is sound - but wasn't always being used consistently, or how it should be.

They said the overarching principle has been reworded to state a pursuit is only justified when the threat posed by the occupants, and the necessity to apprehend the driver or passengers, outweighs the risk of harm.

"The policy has been revised in line with that recommendation. There has been no change to the policy criteria for initiating a pursuit, there are no specific limitations," a spokesperson said.

The new wording is: "A pursuit is only justified when the threat posed by the vehicle occupants(s) prior to the pursuit commencing, and the necessity to immediately apprehend the driver and/or passenger(s), outweighs the risk of harm created by the pursuit."

Police said it was "about encouraging the right mindset and approach for all staff".

"We have always said we prefer our officers undertake enquiries rather than pursue a fleeing driver. So we have focused on our training. This slight rewording of the policy is recognising that we need to better articulate the intent of the policy so that every member has the opportunity to apply it consistently.

"Fleeing driver events are highly volatile and high-risk so police [are] focused on ensuring that our practice is what the public expect and deserve - one that puts safety first and foremost."

Police conduct about twice as many pursuits a year as they did 15 years ago. Around a fifth of all pursuits end in a crash. A survey in 2019 found almost all fleeing drivers are male, about half had been in jail before and two-thirds didn't have a current valid driving licence. Only a quarter involved stolen vehicles.