Police pursuits are a form of “Russian roulette” and come at too high a cost, a NSW coroner has found after an inquest into the death of a young motorcyclist.
Hamish Raj died after colliding with a car and hitting a pole in the early hours of December 10, 2010 in Kogarah in Sydney’s south.
The 21-year-old was being pursued by three police vehicles, with the chase reaching speeds of up to 160 km/h.
Following his death, Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon oversaw an inquest which, for the first time, investigated the issue of police pursuits in NSW.
What he discovered was a policy that was flawed and came at “too high” a social and human cost.
He said Mr Raj’s death was “probably avoidable”.
Describing the policy as at times ambiguous and self-contradictory, he said conducting pursuits was “a form of Russian roulette”.
There was no other government policy that was “implemented and defended” with the “certain knowledge” that it would result in the death and injuries of motorists and pedestrians, he said.
In handing down his recommendations, Mr Dillon said the policy should be amended to ensure the safety of those being pursued is a major consideration and that pursuits are only used as a “last resort”.
He also called for a independent review of the policy and urgent consideration be given to placing a two-minute time limit on high-speed pursuits in urban areas and five-minute limit in regional areas.
He said evidence showed one-third of casualties resulting from pursuits were bystanders.
Citing Mr Raj’s death, along with others due to pursuits in NSW, Mr Dillon said the alleged offences that sparked the pursuit were often less dangerous than the actual chase.
While Mr Raj could have stopped, the coroner said he only began travelling at speeds of up to 160 km/h because he was being pursued.
The issue was not about the conduct of any of the police officers on the night – they did what they perceived to be their duty, Mr Dillon added.
The issue was the policy itself, he said.