17 May 2017
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that an officer who pursued a fleeing driver along the Wellington waterfront put the public at unnecessary and unjustified risk.
At about 1.55pm on Friday 8 April 2016, Police became aware that a driver of a Mitsubishi had stolen a radar detector from a vehicle parked on Vivian Street, Wellington.
A short time later, an officer, driving an unmarked Police car, saw the Mitsubishi on Oriental Parade and began following it. A pursuit commenced on Kent Terrace when the driver of the Mitsubishi failed to stop.
The officer followed the Mitsubishi through traffic stopped at a red light at the intersection of Tory Street and Cable Street and pursued it at a low speed the wrong way down Cable Street (a one way street). Both the officer and the Mitsubishi entered the Wellington waterfront at Taranaki Street.
At this point, the officer told the Police Central Communications Centre (CentComms) that he was heading right, through the carpark next to the dive platform. The officer did not confirm his location when asked to do so by CentComms.
Both the CentComms pursuit controller and dispatcher believed that the pursuit had ended when the cars reached the bollards at the entrance to the waterfront, and that the officer was chasing the offender on foot.
In fact, a bollard was missing and both cars had entered the waterfront, a predominantly pedestrian area. The cars continued along the waterfront, over a pedestrian footbridge, past Frank Kitts Park and towards the TSB Bank Arena.
The Authority estimates that the officer followed the Mitsubishi along the waterfront at a speed of between 47.7 and 59.85 kilometres per hour.
It was a sunny day. The waterfront was busy and the crowd included groups of school-age children; in the words of one witness “there were children everywhere”.
Two witnesses said they were forced to leap over the side of the footbridge and cling onto metal beams hanging above the lagoon to avoid the cars. A group of children were forced to the edge of the waterfront to avoid the cars.
The officer did not communicate again with CentComms until he was near the TSB Arena. At that point he told CentComms that he was on the waterfront and had lost ‘observation’ for the time being. Neither the pursuit controller nor the dispatcher was aware that the Mitsubishi had been pursued along the waterfront.
The driver and passenger of the Mitsubishi were arrested a short time later.
The Authority is satisfied that the officer was justified in pursuing the Mitsubishi along Cable Street at a slow speed. However, it found that the officer should have abandoned the pursuit as soon as it became apparent that the driver of the Mitsubishi was able to access the waterfront area.
“The already very high risks to the public increased significantly as the pursuit continued along the waterfront to the TSB Arena. It is unacceptable that members of the public had to jump out of the way and climb over bridges to escape harm”, said Authority Chair, Sir David Carruthers. “The officer’s decision to pursue the Mitsubishi, as well as the manner and speed of his driving, put the public at unjustified risk.”
The officer was charged with dangerous driving. He pleaded guilty to the charge and on 1 March 2017 was discharged without conviction.