Editorial: Treading a fine line

Reporting on two serious accidents in the Auckland suburb of Orakei yesterday, Inspector Willie Taylor said police also had been involved in four pursuits overnight. Each would have required the police to make critical but finely balanced decisions within seconds.

The wrong call could trigger an accident, perhaps fatal.

Sadly, in Hamilton, a youth was killed when he crashed a stolen car in the early hours of Waitangi Day after a short police chase. A 14-year-old boy was taken to Waikato Hospital in a critical condition but a 15-year-old girl, who had been wearing a seatbelt, was uninjured.

A police officer, describing the incident as tragic, said "this is all about young people making poor decisions". But police decisions, too, will be examined during one or all of three separate investigations.

Police figures show 2115 drivers fled police between January 1 and November 25, 2011 (compared with 2349 in 2009). Police abandoned 48 per cent of pursuits (up from 29 per cent in 2009). Five people were killed and 89 injured, including four police officers and 16 innocent bystanders or road users.

The police aren't immune from criticism. The Independent Police Conduct Authority earlier this week released a report on a 25-minute pursuit in March 2010, saying the chase of motorcyclist Dion Batt lacked adequate command and control "and was plagued with communication issues and breaches of policy". In this case, excessive zeal from the police is all too apparent: at least 11 patrol cars and a police helicopter had been involved in "unnecessarily" pursuing the P-impaired young man at speeds up to 122kmh.

The pursuit ended when Mr Batt, now living with his parents in Raglan, hit a traffic island. He suffered serious brain injuries and is confined to a wheelchair. Notwithstanding the authority's findings, however, he is placing no blame on the police for his plight. "No- one else was to blame. It was my fault," he is reported to have said.

In an era when the police too often are excoriated, rightly or wrongly, for the tragic outcomes of their responses to an incident, it is refreshing to hear of someone taking responsibility for his own decisions. He and his mother, who agrees her son was at fault, are to be admired for being so forthright.