Monday, March 12, 2018

Why are we still letting the police kill people?

Three people died in a police chase over the weekend. It was the usual story: someone fled a routine stop, the police chased them like rabid dogs until they crashed into another vehicle, killing two people in the fleeing car as well as a random member of the public.

Those three deaths were completely unnecessary. And if the police had listened to their own "Independent" Police Conduct authority on the issue, they would never have happened. Back in 2009, after 24 people had died in the previous 6 years, the IPCA took a look at police pursuit policy and found that the risks almost always outweighed any justification. They recommended a complete change to the way decisions to pursue were made:

“Pursuits can begin over relatively minor offending, or general suspicion, and end in serious injury or death,” said Authority Chair Justice Lowell Goddard. “In such cases, the benefits from pursuing and stopping an offender do not appear to have outweighed the risks.

“In our view, the Police pursuit policy could provide clearer guidance for officers on when they may pursue. We have recommended that they reconsider the policy, and have suggested that the risk to public safety from not stopping an offender should be the principal factor justifying a decision to pursue.”

The Authority has also recommended that the Police consider requiring that the decision to pursue should be based on known facts, rather than speculating about a driver’s reasons for failing to stop. Drivers who failed to stop may not have committed serious offences, but rather may be committing minor traffic offences and panic when confronted by the Police.

Naturally, the police ignored this, pursuing their theory that anyone who runs must be guilty of something, and that catching them justifies any risk to innocent lives. Gordon Campbell characterises this as an entrenched toxic culture of macho bravado and contempt for suspect's lives - and he's right. And it has to change.

Fundamentlaly, the police are there to protect public safety. Police officers who risk people's lives because they're angry at being disobeyed or afraid their dicks will look small have no place in the police force. They need to go. And if their superiors won't sack them to give us the safe police force we deserve, then they are part of the problem and need to go too. Just as they were on police sexual violence...

More generally, if the police can just laugh at the recommendations of the IPCA, then it serves no purpose other than perpetuating a public lie that the police are accountable to the law. Either it needs to be given teeth, or we might as well just end the pretense.