When Do Police Have To Call Off A Pursuit?

chase

When Do Police Have To Call Off A Pursuit?

Over the weekend, a dramatic and intense chase captured the streets of the Tweed Byron area. One of Australia’s icons, the commodore, was observed bearing suspected stolen number plates travelling on the Pacific Highway in Northern NSW. Once police attempted to pull over the vehicle, it increased in speed. The chase began.

The vehicle reached speeds over 150km/h while dangerously overtaking cars on the road. Police used tyre deflation devices to shred the tyres of the vehicle. This was successful in damaging two tyres but the vehicle continued on. Veering to the opposite sides of the road with and with damaged tyres, the vehicle was deemed to be travelling too dangerously to continue the pursuit. Police temporarily terminated the pursuit due to the danger the vehicle posed to the public.

Police vehicles eased back and let air support continue to track the vehicle.

A short time later, police reinstated the pursuit. The chase progressed towards the Queensland Border and the car was followed down to a dead-end street. After one and a half hours, police finally arrested the 25-year-old driver and passenger. Interestingly, the driver was only holding a had a learner drivers licence and the commodore was unregistered

The rules surrounding police pursuits were discussed as a result of the death a toddler named Skye Sassine. Sky Sassine was killed as a result of a high-speed police chase on New Year Eve 2009. Tougher penalties were introduced to deal with police pursuits and it is now known as “Skye’s Law”.

SKYE’S LAW

Under Skye’s law, first time offenders will face an automatic driver disqualification of 3 years. This can be reduced to 12 months if the Court deems fit. Furthermore, a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment also applies. Second time offenders will receive a 5 year disqualification along with a maximum prison sentence of 5 years. Note this only relates to the police pursuit itself. Further consequences such as killing a member of the public as a result of the pursuit will increase the penalty.

Section 51B of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) makes police pursuits an offence. To prove police pursuit, the prosecution must prove each of the following matters beyond reasonable doubt:

  • The driver knew, ought reasonably to have known or has reasonable grounds to suspect that police officers were in pursuit;
  • The driver knew, ought reasonably to have known or has reasonable grounds to suspect that the driver was required to stop the vehicle;
  • The driver did not stop the vehicle, and
  • The driver subsequently drove the vehicle recklessly or at a speed or in a manner dangerous to others.

POLICE GUIDELINES TO PURSUIT

The flowchart below is obtained from a document titled AFP National Guideline on urgent duty driving and pursuits”. This document shows the circumstances in which police must call off a pursuit. Police must terminate a pursuit if:

  • There is no urgent need to apprehend the vehicle where:

    – Apprehending the suspect is necessary to prevent a serious risk to public health/safety; and/or

    – A criminal offence has been or is about to be committed which involves serious injury to a person.

  • If there is a feasible alternative means to apprehending the suspect vehicle; and
  • If the overall harm to the public is greater than the harm the pursuit is attempting to prevent.

In determining the risk of the pursuit to the public, police must take into account the speed of the vehicle, the erratic nature of the driving, whether the pursuit is in highly populated areas, if the pursuit will be near schools and the weather.

Section 148C of the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) gives police the power to use tyre deflation devices to stop or assist in the stopping of a vehicle in connection with the pursuit of a vehicle by police. It can also be used to prevent the use of a vehicle by a person escaping custody or arrest. Such devices can be used if the harm or risk can be minimized.

 

Police guidleines

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