Sunday, February 12, 2006

If It Walks Like a Duck ....

This post is dedicated to the Christchurch Central Police Area Commander, Inspector Gary Knowles.

Last September, 17 year old Wayne Darias Silbery was at the wheel of a white 1989 Pontiac Le Mans that was involved in a multi-car pile up on Buckleys Road in the Christchurch suburb of Linwood. Five people required hospital treatment as a result. One teenager, 16 year old Rangi Wano who was a passenger in Silbery's car died from head injuries received in the crash.

At the time of the accident Silbery's car was being followed by an unmarked police car. The police had been trying to stop it as they were trying to apprehend Rangi Wano who had escaped from a CYFS home the previous day. Immediately after the accident Inspector Gary Knowles went to great lengths to impress on the media that police were only following the youths, that there was no police pursuit or chase (you'll have to scroll down a bit to see the news story on this link) happening at the time of the crash.

Well this is what came out at last week's depositions hearing. The driver of the Police vehicle, Constable Richard Carolan, gave evidence that there were two collisions between the police car and the youth's car in the course of the chase which went for about 2-3 km. He also said speeds reached during the pursuit (his words) were up to 100 km/h. This is on roads where the speed limits were 50-60 km/h. During the chase Silbery ran three intersections, crossed median barriers, and drove on the wrong side of the road at least twice before the fatal crash.

Now maybe I'm being a little picky but I reckon when there are speeds of up to 100 km/h recorded in 50 km zones, then it pretty much qualifies as a police pursuit. Doesn't it?

Other bits of information that came out in the hearing was that Constable Carolan had got his gold driving certificate (required training course in pursuit driving for officers) in August. When asked by Silbery's lawyer, David Ruth, he couldn't recall the number of pursuits he'd been involved in.

The issue I have here is not with the police actions in the pursuit, but how they were represented by senior officers afterwards. By categorically denying a pursuit took place Inspector Knowles has effectively hung the Constable out to dry. Constable Carolan now has to justify his actions, which in official terms were not a pursuit, but in reality were.

Did Inspector Knowles not realise details would come out later on in Court that would make his stance look like a deliberate campaign of misinformation. He's handed Silbery's lawyer the tool he needs to rip the police up one side and down the other when this gets to trial. David Ruth may not be able to get Silbery off, but he'll be able to make Canterbury Police look a bunch of incompetents.

On a final aside involving the Christchurch Police. They made an interesting, but unsuccessful, suppression application at this sentencing on Friday. The Crown's submissions bouyed police data which revealed the amount of violent crime had risen in Christchurch by about 40 percent in 2005 compared to 2004. Police had asked the data be suppressed as it normally goes through" further processes" before being released to the public. Good on Judge Erber for not having a bar of it! It'll be interesting to see Christchurch's 2005 crime statistics just to see what happens to the figures quoted in Court last week once they've been further processes.

Anyone care to make a wager that the rise in the"official violent crime rate" will be lower than 40%?

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