A review of high-speed pursuit guidelines is underway as part of a broader review into Operation Toric, ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan confirmed.
But the Territory’s top police officer told an annual reports hearing on Tuesday (1 November) he believes the practice is still “inherently dangerous, for my members [and] to the community, so when we can avoid it, we will and we should”.
A “limited pursuit” policy for car chases was legislated in 2016 following a push from then-Road Safety Minister Shane Rattenbury.
He said at the time pursuits would only occur where “the harm caused by failing to stop the vehicle outweighs the harm that all too often is the result of a pursuit”.
This limited the reasons for which an officer would be allowed to begin a chase to when there is a serious risk to public safety or in relation to a major crime involving the injury or death of a person.
High-speed pursuits have long been a contentious issue in the Territory, particularly since the highly publicised death of 21-year-old university student Clea Rose in Civic in 2005.
She died after being hit by a 14-year-old boy driving a stolen car while pursued by police.
Between 2004 and 2016, nine people were killed in crashes related to police pursuits.
Police Minister Mick Gentleman told the hearing on Tuesday he had spoken to CPO Gaughan about his own concerns relating to police chases.
Mr Gentleman said the decision of whether or not to pursue a chase was an operational one and up to the officer.
But some officers involved in the ongoing Operation Toric have aired concerns about the current policy.
That operation was set up to target recidivist offenders engaging in behaviours like stealing vehicles, property damage, theft and driving at police.
Some police officers have raised concerns these offenders – the majority of whom are known to police – now know the rules so well they are using them to their advantage and deliberately engaging police vehicles in chases and then ending them by driving on the wrong side of the road.
Crossborder concerns and jurisdictional issues also played a role, with CPO Gaughan saying ACT Policing was working with its counterparts over the border as both jurisdictions grappled with this cohort of individuals.
He noted many ACT citizens hopped the border to offend in NSW and vice-versa.
CPO Gaughan was asked whether the review had been kickstarted following Operation Toric.
“No policy or legislation should say still – it always needs to be reviewed, we always need to be nimble and we should admit when we think things need to be looked at,” he responded.
The review is being conducted independently of the police and will be used as part of Operation Toric’s case review.
Since its inception in September, Operation Toric has led to 122 arrests for 310 offences, including aggravated and dangerous driving, driving at police, taking a motor vehicle without consent, drug driving, and firearm-related charges.
Of these, 39 people were on bail, 16 on good behaviour orders, five on intensive corrections orders and eight were on parole, with two of these from NSW, and “less than a handful” were first-time offenders.
CPO Gaughan said these offenders were known to police, while a small cohort presented a significant risk to the community due to their engagement in risky activities like high-speed chases and motor vehicle theft.