14 Jul 2008

Call for tougher penalties for drivers fleeing from police

9:36 pm on 14 July 2008

The Police Association wants tougher penalties introduced for people who flee from police by car, but the Criminal Bar Association questions how much good it would do.

A policy document will be released by the association in Parliament in the next fortnight.

Association president Greg O'Connor says it was prepared before the death of Porirua sergeant Derek Wootton, 52.

Mr Wootton was hit by a car just after laying a set of road spikes about 3am on Friday.

Police had been in a high-speed chase with the driver of the car who is now facing charges.

Mr O'Connor says the current policy is too restrictive for police.

He wants vehicle confiscation for people who flee and the action regarded as an aggravating factor when sentencing a person convicted of a crime involving a police chase.

Mr O'Connor says the association is hoping for broad political support on its policy.

Criminal Bar Association president Graeme Newell supports initiatives to help police, but cautions it could also prove counter-productive.

He says raising the stakes could raise the risks as offenders drive even more dangerously to avoid police.

Mr Newell says penalties for dangerous driving offences already include imprisonment of up to five years.

National support

National Party police spokesperson Chester Borrows says a new charge should be introduced to deal with drivers who flee the police.

Mr Borrows says a charge of aggravated dangerous driving would offer a better deterrent for those involved in police chases.

He says the charge would take into account more than one factor of the driver's behaviour when it came to sentencing, including the speeds involved, the driving history and the condition of the vehicle.

Mr Borrows and the association both say Mr Wootton's death shows it is time for change.

Driver in custody

Police say the incident involving Mr Wootton started when a black Honda Prelude was stolen in Tawa, north of Wellington. Police pursued the vehicle through residential streets at speeds reaching 160 kilometres an hour.

Mr Wootton had set down road spikes in Dimock Street, Titahi Bay, to try to stop the stolen car, and was fatally hit about 3am.

The driver, an unemployed man, 32, appeared in Porirua District Court on Friday charged with dangerous driving causing death, robbery, failing to stop, dangerous driving and kidnapping. The accused, whose name is suppressed, was remanded in custody.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad says the nature of the incident requires a number of investigations, including a review by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

The coroner has been informed, and an internal police inquiry is also required.