Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On needless Police pursuit deaths, and the new Catch 22 powers of the SIS

December 7th, 2010

policeAt his post Cabinet press conference yesterday, Prime Minister John Key confirmed that 18 people had died in police pursuits this year.

Scoop asked him how many of those people had been (a) fleeing from a crime scene or had been engaged in criminal activity and (b) were driving their own, or the family car. Key said that he didn’t have the figures for (a) and referred me to the Police Minister Judith Collins’ office – more on that tomorrow. As for (b) he said he asked the Minister the same question that very morning, and she had said ‘some’ of them were in stolen cars.

Clearly, both factors are relevant. There is an assumption that people are fleeing from Police because they have something criminal to hide. Collins herself told RNZ yesterday morning that she was unwilling to order Police to stand by, and wave criminals goodbye. Her assumption of criminality may be quite false. The alternative explanation is that the drivers are running from Police simply because they’re scared or are pumped up with bravado – and the subsequent chases are putting the public, the Police and drivers at serious risk of death and injury, and for little more reason than a fear of getting in trouble with their parents, or of losing face in front of their mates.

If, therefore, the car is owned by them or their parents, justice could equally be served by the Police merely noting the licence plate, and waiting in the drive for them to come home. Moreover, Police do have radios. Surely rather than chase the offenders at high speeds through city streets endangering the public… have they no ability to radio ahead, and get the offender intercepted? It looks as if the fleeing offender may not be the only one whose actions arise from being pumped up with bravado.

At the post Cabinet press conference, one reporter raised the practices followed in Tasmania. As this 2010 press release from the Tasmanian Police explains, the ‘primary objective of Tasmania Police’s pursuit policy is to minimise risk to the public, people in offending vehicles and police officers.’ [Not the case here, where catching the fleeing offender seems to be the primary objective.] Tasmania therefore makes use of video technology in lieu of chasing the offender, in all but extreme cases. In addition, it has in place an explicit offence called “Evade Police” to deter people from fleeing.

Police have the power to clamp or confiscate the vehicles of drivers who refuse to stop. In the past six months more than 125 vehicles have been clamped after drivers committed the offence Evade Police. Cars were clamped for a minimum period of 28 days. If convicted, drivers may incur a special penalty of $600 in addition to any other fine imposed by the court for the offence. That is in addition to other penalties they may incur for any other driver offences.

If there was a similar offence in New Zealand, this could then be used as the cutting edge of an education campaign to convince people to stop, rather than to flee. In addition, and looking further afield, technology has created another alternative to Police pursuits. Namely, the so-called ‘Star Chase’ technology described here and which is already on the market. This removes the necessity of Police chasing a vehicle. All Police have to do is get close enough – once – to laser tag the offender, and then Police HQ can follow the movements of the car in real time, and pick them up at their leisure.

Instead of all these alternatives – which would save lives, and protect the community from unnecessary risk – Judith Collins is clinging to a policy that is killing people unnecessarily. We already have a “P” epidemic that we can’t control. Well, we also plainly have a “PP” epidemic that is killing people, and we can control these police pursuits. All it takes is for Police to dial back their bravado, admit that their current policy is wrong and adopt the alternatives outlined above. And if the Police won’t do it voluntarily, perhaps Key and his Police Minister can show some leadership. [Tomorrow I hope to have the exact figures for the questions cited in the opening paragraph.]

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The SIS and Catch 22

John KeySo the SIS are to get new powers to hack computers and intercept texts. All in order to better protect our national security, of course. In announcing this legislation at the post-Cabinet press conference yesterday, Key offered two competing explanations. One, that forty years after the passage of its original legislation, the SIS needed its powers to be brought up to date with new technology, and with how the courts have been interpreting security and privacy issues.

You might have thought that having waited 40 years, the SIS could therefore wait a little bit longer and get it right. Not so. Key then offered the other explanation – that with the Rugby World Cup looming, urgency was suddenly required.

And secrecy. The amending legislation would go before a committee that would be closed to the public. Its deliberations would not be open to Official Information Act requests, though it would ultimately issue a report on its conclusions. No one would know who had appeared before this committee or that they said, unless the submitter concerned told you personally what they said. Nor would the public be told how and why the Rugby World Cup was relevant to this secrecy and urgency. Surely, someone asked, it was up to the select committee of Parliament – and not up to the executive – to make such decisions about its deliberations? Yes, but I chair the committee, Key replied. Bada-dum !

The farcical nature of this process was exposed in the supportive notes for the legislation. You want robust oversight mechanisms? Well, Dr. Warren Young of the Law Commission ‘independently reviewed the regulatory impact analysis prepared by the SIS’ and ‘was satisfied that the information and analysis met all the quality assurance criteria’. Would that ‘independent reviewer’ be the same Warren Young who has been the staunchest public defender of the search and surveillance legislation currently before the House? Why yes, it would be.

Is the Rugby World Cup really going to be a focus for global terrorism? Who knew Bin Laden was such a fan? Conceivably, someone might want to use this event as a platform for their cause, even if few countries treat rugby as a serious sport. To identify the likely terrorists, it may have to be an issue where England, France, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Wales, Tonga or Argentina wield decisive power. Ummmmm…

For the full Catch 22 flavour of the oversight processes, turn to para 62 of the supportive notes. There, we find that “because of the operational sensitivity of the proposals, public consultation on the proposals was not undertaken.” But don’t worry: “To address the public interest in the area of privacy and to ensure the proposals are calibrated against appropriate oversight arrangements” consultation was carried out with, among others, the Privacy Commission.

Problem being, the Privacy Commission – unlike the good Dr Young – found plenty it didn’t like in the legislation and said so. “The Office of the Privacy Commission suggested there should be further strengthening of the Act to apply formal principles of proportionality, necessity and reasonableness to all security intelligence investigations, and to protect the privacy of third parties.” Did anyone heed them? No. It shunted them aside, with this dismissal: “These suggestions would be most effectively addressed in a longer term fundamental review of the Act.”

Bingo! Catch 22. You don’t ask the public about how they feel about their privacy being abridged for their own good – you ask a privacy expert on their behalf. And darn it, when that privacy expert says something about your legislation you don’t want to hear you put your hands over your ears and go ‘lah lah lah’ and say they’re not really talking about your legislation. Instead, you’ll consider their recommendations in the light of something else entirely, that being a full review that you then decline to have. Either now, or in the foreseeable.

As many have pointed out before, one of the main features of Catch 22 has been the combination of force with specious legalistic justification. In other words: ‘Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.’

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    1. 10 Responses to “On needless Police pursuit deaths, and the new Catch 22 powers of the SIS”

    2. By Sport our ultimate concern on Dec 7, 2010 | Reply

      Attacks on our religion will not be tolerated.

      “continuous warfare” is the key to social control.” – George Orwell 1984

      Baaa….

    3. By Matt on Dec 7, 2010 | Reply

      Gordon, could you please tell me how the Police ascertain that a car is being driven by its owner (or someone known to them and legally in possession of the vehicle) without first getting the car to stop? If you can answer that question – and don’t say “Check the computer to see if it’s stolen” because we all know that cars can remain unreported for hours, if not days, following their theft – then we can quite definitely allow the Police to call off most chases.
      However, since you can’t answer that question, the Police must continue under the assumption that the car is not in lawful possession of the driver.
      Also, assuming the Police are being truthful about when they abort pursuits, several of the fatalities (including one at the weekend) have occurred after the chase was called off. Others have occurred within a minute or two of the pursuit commencing, which is barely enough time to determine that the driver’s not going to stop, is driving poorly, that the chase should be abandoned. How do you propose to deal with that, even if you can magic up a solution to determining who’s driving without stopping the vehicle?

      The ONLY blame for these deaths lies with the drivers who flee. Not the Police, not the other road users, the fleeing driver. Don’t flee, don’t kill. It’s a very simple equation.

      My preferred solution would be to crush any vehicle that flees from Police unless it’s reported stolen. Knowing that even if you run away you’ll still lose your car will take the starch out of a lot of the young hoons who think it’s all a big game.
      What won’t fix the problem is bleeding hearts like you who think the magic solution is for the cops to not chase people. If they take that route, more people will run. The risk to society will increase, not decrease, because if the cops don’t catch you behind the wheel you can always argue that it wasn’t you driving. They can’t prove otherwise, unless they manage to get video footage from somewhere, and for a low-return “failing to stop” charge it’s not worth the effort of tracking that down.

    4. By joe on Dec 7, 2010 | Reply

      I really don’t care who’s to blame for the deaths, I want to know how to stop them. The police don’t chase them, they don’t crash, its a simple equation. If a loved one of mine was killed by a fleeing driver, it would give me no solace to know that it was the fleeing driver’s fault. I’d want to know that there was a very good reason that the police gave chase in the first place.

    5. By Rachael on Dec 7, 2010 | Reply

      The Heralds excellent feature showed 70% of victims were innocent persons (passengers or exterior), caught up in a situation not in their control. Collins approach is astounding. She keeps asking silly questions like why do they run and Key says she is going away to think about it. We already sent her all the studies telling why. And the why is of little consequence regardless – the impt fact is that once in flight they typically wbn’t stop, making chase engagements a poor decision from the outset. She says more will run under restrictive policies – disproved in Canadian research. She says allowing flight is handing the roads over to criminals. Nonsense – most are minor traffic offenders or those refusing mere snooping stops of boy racers. And double nonsense – civil countries have found that pursuit mania increases chaos, anarchy and homicide. The sums are simple – fewer pursuits eg violent offender only policies =’s safer roads. At the end of the day mainstream media keeps editing out my comments on the real cause of the epidemic. Quadrupled pursuits since 2002 because of the change in policy approved by Minister George Hawkins. The Road Police Reasource Allocation quota setting software was given its Nayional rollout in 2003 after a trial in Southland showed it was ineffective. 3 MoT reviews have shown its worse than ineffective as the basis of our road safety program and ups trauma, the MoT advice to Police… “ignore the results and try to believe in the system”. This failure extends beyond incentivised Police pursuits and related trauma – the system fails to give overall road safety delivery. Only a Royal Commission will expose why the Police are incapable of responding to IPCA recommendations to cut chases of traffic offenders – it would make meeting Resource Allocation model ticket quotas just too hard! Judith needs to draw on the bulk scientific findings for solutions and stop the blame game – because too masny innocents die while she plays with semantics and diversionary spin. Where is the humanity or results focus?
      Royal Commission the road safety program based on dud quota generating software in the public interest, or see ACC crash claims tripled again in the next 5 years – 2 billion to 7 since RAM quota model rollout in 02/03. Thats gotta hurt. And where oh where is the auditor general, he needs to chase Judith up hard. As evidence led road safety clearly is not on her fast Plod agenda.

    6. By Pete on Dec 7, 2010 | Reply

      I’m with Gordon and joe on this one.

      And Matt – with all due respect – is the ‘Star Chase’ technology not a feasible option to be included as a response for those chases that last beyond a short period of time (or before they ramp up to that point)? Should the first principle of police in situations where a chase may ensure not be to do no harm to the public, themselves or the ‘offender’ and their passengers – or are the Tasmanian Police too soft?

      And P.S. the ‘bleeding heart’ tag does not add anything to the debate, please leave your prejudice at the door.

    7. By MrSmith on Dec 7, 2010 | Reply

      Matt: how about after they do finally catch these cars then (if they haven’t crashed and killed all the occupants) they line them up against a wall and shot them… then crush the car, will that make you happy? Violence only breeds violence Matt your ideas only inflame the situation, we need a intelligent solution to the problem not more problems.

    8. By imakka on Dec 8, 2010 | Reply

      What a wonderful world Gordon & co. live in…

      “If, therefore, the car is owned by them or their parents, justice could equally be served by the Police merely noting the licence plate, and waiting in the drive for them to come home. Moreover, Police do have radios.” This assumes that the car is taken without parents’ consent & that even if not, that the parents would cooperate with police. People do have cell phones. You’d have police cars sitting in driveways, gathering dust while the offenders go free after being alerted by text then parking the car around the corner!

      And the StarChase system? “All Police have to do is get close enough – once – to laser tag the offender”. So… that means that the police would have to… PURSUE the suspect vehicle & get close enough to fire the tag… In many cases, suspects’ flight beings as soon as the police do a U-turn. Anyway, even if successfully tagged, once the police cars drop back & are out of site, the offenders could simply stop & remove the tag from the vehicle. Worse still they could stick the tag on another vehicle & then lead the police on a wild goose chase!

      Of course I would be devastated if a loved one was killed or injured by a fleeing driver. I would be equally devastated if a loved one was killed or injured by a perp that could have been detained earlier by police.

      Video cameras in police cars & the clamping policy have merit. Remember that the police will still have to get close enough to the suspect car to make the video effective.

      Get in the real world folks. It is the irresponsible people fleeing that take the unnecessary risks & cause the crashes. Criminals flee because they think they can get away from police. The more negative publicity police pursuits receive & the more tentative the pursuit policy becomes, the more people with something to hide from police will try to flee. Carry on with this & we will end up with more fleeing, therefore more risk & more injury & death. There must be a get tough policy & actions to back it up that drive home the message that fleeing is not an option.

    9. By Tigger on Dec 9, 2010 | Reply

      imakka – can you explain how more fleeing will cause “more risk & more injury & death”. Are these all serial killers and mass murderers fleeing? Because unless these flee-ers escape to go kill wantonly I can’t see how they’d cause more harm than is already occurring by being chased and crashing.

    10. By peterthe peasant on Dec 9, 2010 | Reply

      I take it from the above comments that the police ought not to chase anyone, or anything, because an innocent person may get damaged.

      Why do we not just disband the police force?
      Clearly they are a dangerous waste of tax payers money.
      Why should we pay people to kill people.

      Does it not occur to anyone that a driver flouting the law caused the death(s)?

      How hard is it to slow down , pull over, stop?

    11. By imakka on Dec 11, 2010 | Reply

      Tigger, I can explain… can you understand… fleeing in a car generally means driving at speeds far in excess of the speed limit. It also likely entails flouting road rules & unsafe driving such as: running red lights, failing to give way, dangerous overtaking & using the wrong side of the road. I would hazard a guess & say that there would not be many of these fleeing drivers that would have had special training to undertake such manoeuvres. This presents a high risk of injury & death to the occupants of the fleeing vehicle. It also risks the health & lives innocent people who are in the vicinity: other drivers, bike riders, pedestrians, children playing on a front lawn, people inside their houses.

      Again, you appear to be blaming the police for the risks taken by those that flee. In many cases, flight commenced just after the police activated flashing lights & siren. Failing to stop, driving recklessly & in excess of the speed limit are all examples of breaking the law. The fault lies with those breaking the law.

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