29 Oct 2010

Wootton coroner recommends high visibility vests

8:16 pm on 29 October 2010

Police should always wear high visibility vests when laying road spikes, a coroner has said in comments on the death of Sergeant Derek Wootton.

The 52-year-old was hit at high speed as he tried to lay down spikes to stop a dangerous driver in Titahi Bay near Wellington in July 2008.

Andrew Popo pleaded guilty to manslaughter and dangerous driving charges and was sentenced to almost nine years' imprisonment.

The report states Sergeant Wootton was not wearing a high visibility vest, as required by police protocol.

Officers interviewed as part of a report presented to the inquest said they would not wear one either, to avoid being made a target.

Wellington Regional Coroner Ian Smith said he believed wearing high visibility vests should be compulsory.

"If an officer cannot safely wear a jacket and have time to deploy road spikes safely, then they should simply abandon the exercise."

Mr Smith said it was akin to wearing a safety helmet on a building site.

However, Police Association president Greg O'Connor rejected the coroner's call on Friday, saying officers do not need another layer of compliance.

Mr O'Connor says every situation in policing is different, so officers need to be trained to have discretion and make good decisions.

A prescriptive approach to improve one aspect of the job could make individuals vulnerable in another area, he believes.

Sergeant Wootton's brother says officers should always have the final choice to wear the vests while laying road spikes, as they may not want to be a target.

John Wootton says he is pleased the coroner found the vest requirement is not universally accepted, or complied with by officers.