Sunday, November 18, 2012

When the law becomes a laughing-stock

Courtesy of Australian reader Snoggeramus, we learn of a car thief who took mockery of the law to a new level.

... criminals are taunting police over the "no pursuits" policy, with one teenage car thief phoning the service during a chase to complain that officers should not be on his tail.

In one of the most frustrating incidents to emerge since the policy was introduced last year, the 18-year-old offender phoned the Policelink hotline and triple-0 when he was behind the wheel of a stolen car on Brisbane's southside last week.

His brazen phone calls, in which he skited that officers had to back off because the pursuit was becoming dangerous, have prompted renewed calls from the Queensland Police Union to scrap the no-pursuits policy, which was designed to save lives.

"The entire system has become dysfunctional, with criminals now taunting police and the courts refusing to enforce the mandatory penalties in legislation," police union president Ian Leavers said.

"Criminals know police have a 'no pursuits policy' and we have just seen a frightening increase of criminals deliberately taunting and stalking police in their cars, knowing full well police are not allowed to pursue them."

However, Police Commissioner Ian Stewart last night warned of the dangers of chasing drivers who were often young, inexperienced and affected by drugs and alcohol.

"The juvenile behaviour of this offender does not trigger a potentially life-threatening response by police," he said.

. . .

"There are circumstances where more serious crimes have been committed, and where not pursuing may lead to a greater danger to the public, and in those instances the policy does allow our officers to pursue."

Under the pursuits policy, introduced last December, officers are barred from high-speed chases unless the offender is a violent high-risk or lives are threatened.

It followed 19 deaths and 737 injuries from police pursuits since 2000, including the tragic case of schoolgirl Caitlin Hanrick, 13, who died after being hit by a stolen car during a chase at Redcliffe.

There's more at the link.

I can understand Commissioner Stewart's point:  police pursuits are inherently dangerous, both to those involved and to other traffic on the roads (including pedestrians).  However, if you allow criminals to get away with their crimes - particularly when those crimes include deliberately taunting and baiting the police - you're making the situation worse, not better.

Part of the problem is the lenient sentencing followed by Australian courts.  An offender who hasn't committed a violent crime, but merely stolen a car and taunted police in the process, might get at most a few months behind bars.  If the authorities would impose tougher sentences, so that offenders - particularly repeat offenders - knew they faced three to five years behind bars, they'd have much less incentive to take the law lightly.

When this sort of thing becomes routine, the system is broken.  It needs to be fixed . . . or replaced by one that works better.



Murphy's Law said...

Washington DC used to have a total "no pursuit" policy until this sort of thing became commonplace there. Too many people were reporting seeing their own stolen cars driving around their neighborhoods because the thieves had no fear of being chased, much less apprehended. They'd drive right past police officers and yell "Yo! This junk's stolen!" then peel out, knowing that there would be no pursuit. When DC changed the law to allow pursuits for felonies--and car theft is a felony--this crap stopped.
Criminals understand one thing: swift, sure consequences.

Erik said...

There's also another problem that is lost in people that claim that "no car is worth a lost life".

There's no way of knowing what else is in that car. The guy running may have done other things than just stolen a car that is the reason he runs. He could have drugs, stolen property or an abducted child in the trunk, and a "no persuit" rule will make sure he gets away safe.

I know of at least one case where the no persuit rule let a person go that just an hour later broke into a home and raped and killed a girl.

The "no persuit" rule is just a way to give criminals a free pass on the expense of innocent law abiding people.
Just like overly lenient sentences are.

Stuart Garfath said...

G'day, from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
All of the above is current and true.
The sad fact is, our Police Force here in Sydney is hamstrung by their Political masters, both State and Federal.
I know, because a very Senior Police Officer, of impeccable character. I have had the honour to have had a beer or three at a BBQ or three, with him.
This Gentleman, this Man, has risen from the ranks, from Constable to his current position, despite intense, focussed Political opposition directed at his promotion. .
Sadly, he is one of the 'few', (of his level), in the NSW Police Force, that are still, by their Graduation Oath, Police Officers.
That's our problem.

Cape Cod Ex-pat said...

When car chases are outlawed, only the outlaws will race around dangerously.

Morris said...

Yep, we have this foolish law here in Western Australia as well.

Everything you say about the leniency of the law here is spot on, Peter. Unfortunately, PC has eaten its way well into the system.