Tougher penalties for drivers fleeing police announced
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Drivers who flee police will face harsher penalties, including loss of licence and possible vehicle confiscation.
Police Minister Michael Woodhouse said the law would be changed to beef-up penalties, with the new regime in place from 2017.
He said similar measures had reduced the "boy racer" problem and believed that the new penalties would cause some offenders to pause and think.
Changes will include:
• Increase existing mandatory driver licence disqualification periods for failure to stop offences to six months for the first offence, 12 months for the second, and 24 months for third and subsequent offences.
• Mandatory vehicle confiscation for second and subsequent failure to stop offences within a four year period. Courts will be given the ability to confiscate an offender's vehicle for any first offences.
• Giving police the ability to impound vehicles used to flee for up to 28 days, if it is reasonable to believe the person who owns it is withholding information on who was driving.
"It is important to point out that these penalties will be on top of any prior offences they may have committed that brought them to Police's attention in the first place," Mr Woodhouse said.
There are about 2300 failure to stop incidents every year, and that rate has slightly increased recently.
Mr Woodhouse made the announcement while opening the Police Association's three day annual conference in Wellington.
Penalties for fleeing police already include making it an aggravating factor at sentencing, vehicle impoundment and mandatory disqualification for repeat offences.
At present, drivers convicted for a third time of failing to stop lose their licence for a year and face up to three months in jail. Police Association president Greg O'Connor has said drivers who don't stop can escape with a fine of only $200, despite the law allowing for a fine of up to $10,000.
He said the new penalties - while not as harsh as what he had called for in the past - would still make a difference to some offenders, although for other "drunk idiots" nothing would.
Before Mr Woodhouse's speech, Mr O'Connor played a video that highlighted the violent crimes police deal with, including firearm incidents.
This year's conference is titled "In The Firing Line". Mr O'Connor said the association had made its view clear on the eventual need to arm officers with guns.
He said the association had been ahead of the policy curve on issues such as the menace of methamphetamine.
Waiting for official statistics to "catch up" to what officers were experiencing and reporting on the ground was folly, Mr O'Connor said.
Officers were reporting more firearms being available to criminals, but that did not appear to be showing in statistics which was "puzzling".
"Police officers...are reporting a shortage of storage space for seized firearms...that's pretty good evidence," Mr O'Connor said.
The association had been compiling its own database of seized firearms since September 1, and had 58 recorded so far, more than one a day.
He asked Mr Woodhouse to order an inquiry into the availability of firearms to criminals in New Zealand, before a "disaster" forced the Government's hand.
In response, Mr Woodhouse said he would consider it, but there was a challenge to work out exactly what was happening on the front-line, and statistics were needed to do so.
It was important those statistics were not of a snapshot in time, but reflected any long-term trends.
Incidents involving firearms were still relatively rare, Mr Woodhouse said, and New Zealand had very low rates of gun crime.
"When you look at the overall picture...I think there is still a low and reducing rate of firearm offending. It is important that we remain vigilant."
Police leadership at the end of July decided to roll out Tasers to all front-line police officers.
That decision was made by police bosses, not Mr Woodhouse, as it was an operational matter. Any decision to give police guns would likewise be made by police bosses.