Monday, March 22, 2010

Blaming Police Is Not The Answer

The sheer horror of the road crash in Canberra on Saturday night is undeniable. A 33 year old man, his 29 year old partner and their three month old son all died senselessly, without warning, and through no fault of their own, when their car was hit by a stolen vehicle which was speeding through a red light. The driver of the stolen car also died, and his eighteen year old female passenger was critically injured. The devastation is unspeakable, and the families of all involved are feeling the kind of grief that all of us pray we never will. Perhaps that’s why some of those family members are blaming the police for what has happened.

Relatives of both the passenger in the stolen car and the innocent victims have expressed the view that police caused the crash by pursuing the offender. It is understandable that they want to blame somebody, but the rest of us must take a more rational view about what has happened. This tragedy occurred because a young man stole a car, and attempted to escape police by speeding through two red lights. It was his actions that were directly the cause of the tragedy which followed. If he had not stolen the car, this would not have happened. If he had obeyed the police directive to stop this would not have happened. If he had not run the red lights this would not have happened. To blame the police is just plain wrong.

That doesn’t mean that we should not ask if there is something about police procedure which might be improved. Once again, the policy which dictates how pursuits are managed will be questioned. Some will say that pursuits should be banned altogether. But this is an emotional response to a terrible tragedy, and a more considered, rational approach is necessary. If criminals know that once they get into a car they cannot be pursued, what do you think would happen? If a speeding driver knows that all he has to do is to go just a little bit faster to get away, what do you think he will do? Seriously, what are police supposed to do? Stand by the side of the road and say, “well the offender is in a car now so there’s nothing we can do”?

Perhaps there is a better way to manage the circumstances around police pursuits, and if there is we should expend every effort to find it. If procedures are found to be in some way faulty, we need to fix them. These are matters which can and must be examined. But blaming the police for the actions of criminals is only one step away from blaming the victims. It completely ignores the responsibility that all of us must carry for the consequences of our own actions, by absolving those who are really to blame.

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