Deadly police pursuits are sadly not an anomaly in New Zealand, and have cost children as young as 12 their lives. In less than four years, police have chased more than 10,000 fleeing cars on New Zealand roads.
But police figures show that when it comes to punishment, 54 percent of those warned or charged were Māori, RNZ reports, with nine Māori drivers and four European drivers losing their lives in that period. This despite Māori making up just 15 percent of the general population.
Former police officer Hurimoana Dennis says the trend comes as no surprise. "Bias within the police, that's well known. It doesn't matter which way you roll the dice, every constable or officer who has the power of arrest, has the power of discretion,” he says. "No one can tell them who to arrest and who not to arrest."
Dr Moana Jackson, a lawyer researching the disproportionate presence of Māori involved and prosecuted in police pursuits, says the trend has, among some, earned the chases a macabre nickname: the “Māori death chase policy”.
Jackson says the unconscious bias of police can have deadly consequences. "The way in which they arrest Māori, the decision to pursue a Māori, usually young Māori, the police's research itself admits that often those decisions are prompted by what they call unconscious bias."
But the Police Association heavily denies this. The association's president, Chris Cahill, said there was no evidence that bias contributes to the over-representation of Māori involved in pursuits, or being charged more than any other ethnic group. “And bear in mind that a police officer who initiates a pursuit is very rarely going to know the ethnicity of the driver of that car anyway," he said.
RNZ said police would not be interviewed and could offer no reason for the disproportionate rates except from saying in a statement that fleeing Māori drivers were more likely to be on their learner or restricted license.