Revealed: No GPS trackers in NZ Police fleet

A Newshub Nation investigation has revealed there are no GPS trackers installed in the New Zealand police fleet, despite safety concerns from experts.

Since 2016, more than 20 people have died and nearly 400 have been injured in police pursuits.

After two fatal pursuits in 2003, police comprehensively reviewed pursuit procedure.
One of the review's recommendations was to trial Automatic Vehicle Location technology (AVL) in the police fleet.

AVL trackers are on-board GPS devices which transmit data like speed and location to a communication centre.

The 2003 review concluded AVL would help to manage high-risk situations like pursuits, and the extra information would aid improvements in practice and procedure.

For some years, police appeared to agree. By 2010 there were 120 vehicles installed with AVL units in the Auckland region, and the technology was backed by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA).

In an investigation into a 2006 fatal police pursuit, the IPCA wrote: "The authority is aware that the AVL system is still being piloted and supports the continuation of the project."

But at some point following the trial of AVL, police decided to remove the devices from all patrol cars and revert back to monitoring pursuits by radio communication.

Police repeatedly declined to be interviewed for this story and have not explained exactly why the AVL units were taken out.

Instead they sent us a series of statements confirming "there is currently no GPS tracking in patrol cars... Police are investing in technology to understand where our staff members are as opposed to our vehicles, and we're working to make that happen over the next six to 12 months."

Police did not confirm what that technology is, or how it will be used.

Lance Burdett who spent two years as a pursuit controller, the officer tasked with directing pursuits from a police communication centre says he was mostly blind to how a pursuit was progressing in real-time, relying solely on radio communications.

"You don't even know where the car is. The bizarre thing is you don't know, you're relying on, the person telling you and giving you information - 'we've turned left in to such as such'. We're travelling at this speed and you are hoping that they are telling you the truth."

Mr Burdett says the adrenaline of pursuits can compromise the decision-making of the officer behind the wheel.

"It's an interesting space that cops get when they are chasing somebody - it's almost like the thrill of the catch and kill if you like, when you get into that mindset, as all you see you get tunnel vision - is all you see is the person in front of you."

AVL has been adopted by many police agencies overseas, including Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland.  

The units cost around $200 each, meaning for the $350,000 it cost police to make a recent recruitment ad, they could have purchased 1500 AVL units -  enough for around half the current police fleet.

In New Zealand, emergency services including St John Ambulance, Wellington Free Ambulance and the New Zealand Fire Service also utilise the technology.

Gareth Jones is a former British police officer based in Canada, and one of the world's most experienced police pursuit investigators with more than 200 cases under his belt.

"I personally do not see a downside from any perspective In terms of having GPS in all vehicles," he told Newshub Nation.              

He says AVL not only assists in the investigation of crashes, but the data recorded also helps police officers defend themselves from accusations.

"The GPS is presumably going to support the account I have given of what's happened so it works in my favour. Then of course from a broader perspective in terms of transparency and accountability having that data available is very important."

Newshub Nation.

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