Christchurch police pursuit: Officers lacked communication with man who rammed patrol car twice

Police did not communicate effectively with a man found sleeping outside a Christchurch preschool who led them on a pursuit and rammed a patrol car twice.

Police officers were justified in initiating the pursuit but did not communicate effectively, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found.

In December 2018, police received a call about a man acting suspiciously in a van outside a pre-school in Woolston, Christchurch.

He had been sleeping in the van.

When the man drove off, officers signalled him to stop but he rammed their police vehicle twice.

A pursuit began but was abandoned 92 seconds later as the pursuit controller mistakenly believed the man’s identity was known and that he could most likely be located through inquiries.

Police searched for and located the vehicle and recommenced the pursuit after it was established the identity of the driver was unknown.

The IPCA has found It was not unreasonable for the pursuit controller to allow the second pursuit to continue at this point, however, he should have made sure permission was given at the time.

“This was an unusual situation where officers had good reason to want to confirm the identity of the driver,” the IPCA’s report says.

“They had been told the man was sleeping in his van outside the pre-school and therefore of no fixed abode, he failed to stop when signalled, and committed a criminal offence when he rammed the officers’ vehicle.

“This was not the first time concerns had been raised with police about the van being parked outside the pre-school. The van had also been involved in a prior unrelated incident,” said authority chair, Judge Colin Doherty.

The authority found that officers lacked understanding of what activity is permitted after a pursuit has been abandoned.

The pursuit controller and the officers should have communicated more effectively during the pursuit, the IPCA said in its decision.

The man drove at a slow speed throughout the pursuit, however he continued to ram police vehicles, avoided at least three sets of road spikes, and during the pursuit rang 111 saying he wanted to end his life.

The recommenced pursuit should have been abandoned when the man drove through a service station forecourt, however officers failed to provide necessary, accurate information about this to the communication centre.

The eight-minute pursuit ended when the man’s van collided with a patrol car at low speed.The man struggled with officers, which led to the use of the police dog.

In its decision, the IPCA said officers were justified in initiating a pursuit, but throughout the pursuit critical information was not communicated between officers and the communication centre to enable effective risk assessments.

An officer was also justified in using his police dog to help in the arrest of the man, it found.

Police said in a statement they acknowledged the findings.

“As noted by the IPCA Chair, this was an unusual situation, where officers had good reason to want to confirm the identity of the driver,” said Superintendent John Price, Canterbury district commander.

“It is clear to me that the priority of the officers throughout the response to this incident was to ensure that the matter was resolved safely, with no harm coming to either the man involved or innocent members of the public.”

“However it is also apparent that there was not a clear understanding among the officers of what is permitted during an enquiry phase of a pursuit, leading officers to continue searching for the fleeing driver after the pursuit had been abandoned.

“These points have been addressed with both the officers involved and as part of wider communications to Canterbury District staff.”

He also noted that the incident took place nearly two years ago.

“A number of lessons have been learned in that time, both from this incident and from reviews of other fleeing driver events.

“Based on those learnings, if a similar situation were to arise in the future, my expectation is that a pursuit would not be initiated.”

The driver, aged 21 at the time of the incident, was convicted of a number of offences in relation to the incident, including operating a motor vehicle recklessly, failing to stop for police, and resisting police.

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