Vehicle owners are fuming after their cars were used by Victorian police to stop a police pursuit, who then told them to take care of the resulting damage themselves.
Drivers were travelling on the Tullamarine Freeway when police asked to use their cars to create a ‘makeshift roadblock’ to stop a car which was allegedly full of stolen goods.
The car driven by the suspect crashed into the roadblock causing extensive damage to at least 9 privately owned vehicles. But despite requesting the cars and setting up the roadblock, police have told drivers to take care of the damage themselves because it was not caused by a police vehicle.
The police response has left drivers fuming. One young woman whose uninsured vehicle was written-off was told to pay for another car herself. A spokesperson for the woman told the media that police should be responsible for their actions, pointing out that:
‘If it was a random stolen car, bad luck. But they chose to use her as a roadblock. They knew that car wasn’t stopping. You’re very lucky that nobody got very seriously injured.’
In 2012, Victorian police came under fire after directing motorists to form a roadblock on the Hume Highway in an attempt to stop a man in a stolen car.
The driver ended up hitting numerous cars – including vehicles still occupied by parents and young children. One man, David Rendita, told the media that it was irresponsible for police to put innocent lives at risk to stop a suspect.
Another witness, 17-year-old Madhawa Mapa, recounted:
‘The police officers exited their vehicle, and firmly instructed the traffic to form three lanes, occupying the emergency lane as well. I was right at the front of the traffic, and I initially assumed that it was a routine check. However, upon hearing the helicopter above us, and witnessing the blockage of the emergency lane, I had a feeling that this was something more serious…. It was only later that I was properly informed that my mum and I had been used as a civilian roadblock. My mum and I were put in a position of extreme danger.’
Despite members of the public narrowly avoiding serious injury, police attempted to downplay the incident, with a spokesperson saying that police ‘were trying to do their best to actually reduce the risk to anyone in the community’ and suggesting there was little danger because the car ‘slow[ed] down’ before hitting the occupied vehicles.
Although drivers in that case were left feeling angry, they were at least offered free counselling and compensation for the damage caused.
Can Police Use Civilians in Roadblocks?
After the 2012 incident, Victorian Police Commissioner Ken Lay announced that using civilians in police roadblocks was not police policy:
‘I’ve been briefed about this situation and to be perfectly frank, the circumstances that have been described to me in no way, shape or form conform to our policy… When I see members of the public put in positions of danger, it causes me significant concern.’
Despite this, he refused to discipline any of the officers involved, telling the media that they would remain in their positions until a review was completed. The outcome of any such review is unclear.
Are Police Pursuits Worthwhile?
The latest incident has once again sparked debate about police pursuits, with many arguing they should not be carried out at all because of the associated risks. They highlight the fact that drivers involved in pursuits are often under the influence of alcohol or drugs, are prone to making reckless choices, and that prolonged pursuits unjustifiably put innocent lives in danger.
Statistics show that around one-third of all people killed during police pursuits are ‘innocent bystanders’, including young children and babies. Just last year, 17-month-old Tahlia Tauaifaga was tragically killed after a stolen car ploughed into her family’s backyard during a police pursuit. Her death came just months after a highly critical, independent review of the NSW Police Force’s police pursuit policy.
Victoria has recently made changes to its police pursuit policy. Like Queensland, Victorian officers are now only supposed to conduct pursuits in ‘exceptional circumstances’, namely where:
- There are no feasible alternative means for apprehending the vehicle’s occupant/s,
- They are necessary to prevent serious risk to public health and safety,
- A criminal offence has been committed or is about to be committed, and the offence involves serious injury to someone, or
- The overall harm that police are seeking to prevent is greater than the risks involved in conducting the pursuit.
However, the most recent Victorian incident is another example of policies being being ignored by reckless officers, who appear to be more concerned about ‘winning the chase’ than protecting members of the public.