President's Column - Christchurch quake response provides valuable lessons for another issue

NZPA Police News | Fri October 1st, 2010

“The strategy has got to be to make sure offenders know it’s not worth it to have a go, not to make police tentative in enforcing the law and in doing so, making the roads more dangerous.”

Even as we all poured our hearts out for our Canterbury colleagues and admired the professional and efficient way they went about getting their lives and city back in order: even while the earthquake dominated the media headlines; and even while we learned more about the fragile geology of this country we love and call home, certain events still sneaked through all those headlines to remind us policing goes on.

Yes, the perennial problem of criminals on the road refusing to stop for police kept raising its head through the earthquake headlines.

This month’s Police News endeavours to take a rational and dispassionate look at the issue which our media, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) and other commentators seem capable only of seeing as a Police issue.

What they seem incapable of doing is understanding that by focusing only on the police role and imposing greater and greater restrictions on us, those same people are simply accentuating the problem by providing incentives for people to refuse to stop.

A retired senior officer contacted me recently to tell the story of what happened in the late 1980s when a judicial decision, well publicised, decreed police and traffic officers could not go onto private property to carry out evidential breath analysis (EBA) tests.

Failing to stop went through the roof as a result of this ‘incentive’, until the law was changed.

We’re there now and until the focus goes on the offender’s behaviour and how the judiciary, police, the IPCA and coroners can work together to focus on them, we’ll just keep encouraging criminals to ‘have a go’ - with the obvious results we see.

A very encouraging aspect of the last fatal attempt at flight in Christchurch was the very positive way the local Area Commander dealt with the media, letting them and the country know he was fully supporting his troops and ensuring the public knew the pedigree of the offender.

Importantly, the critics had nowhere to go. The current Police Minister is also very supportive.

The strategy has got to be to make sure offenders know it’s not worth it to have a go, not to make police tentative in enforcing the law and in doing so, making the roads more dangerous.

Because going back to our Canterbury colleagues, their magnificent response to the earthquake was not that of a tentative organisation.

The public expect their police to take charge. And that means in all the areas in which they rely on us.

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