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One of the most dangerous things a police officer can do is to engage in intercept driving.
 
Vehicle Interception is undertaken at the discretion of the driver or by direction from the Police Operation Centre (POC) and/ or Police Operations Centre Communications Controller (POCCC).
 
This duty will see police officers travel at speed well in excess of the posted limits and officers need to be reminded that the maximum permissible speed allowed during an intercept is 140 km/h.
 
Police officers need to drive at speed all while taking in their surrounds, monitoring the suspect vehicle and remaining hyperviligent for other road users and obstacles.
 
In the event the target vehicle fails to stop for police then the incident becomes an Evade Police Incident and the POC and/ or POCCC must be advised immediately.
 
It is a specialised skill and not every police officer is qualified to undertake these duties.
 
One officer who was qualified was Senior Constable Michael Gordon. In 2004, Michael joined the WA Police Force, became pursuit qualified in 2007 and since that time has been in the driver’s seat for more than 100 police pursuits.
But it was his last pursuit which has had a major impact on his career.
 
Michael was sitting at his desk at Gosnells Police Station filling out paperwork in relation to seized vehicle when a call came across the radio.
 
There was an unqualified driver following a vehicle which had already been involved in an aborted pursuit earlier that evening.
 
Michael and his partner left the station to assist. They began to pursue the vehicle and numerous times the pursuit was aborted, re-started, aborted and re-started before Michael finally decided to abort it once again.
 
Ultimately, after Michael aborted the pursuit for the final time, the offender collided with a motorbike rider while driving on the wrong side of Leach Highway.
 
Motorbike rider Jordan Thorsager died as a result of the crash and the driver Kylee King plead guilty to murdering Jordan in May this year. She is currently serving a life sentence and will need to serve at least 13 years behind bars before she can be considered for release.
 
Even with the offender serving time in prison for her fatal actions, attention turned to Michael’s actions in the pursuit which came under the microscope of Internal Affairs Unit. He was initially charged with reckless driving before pleading guilty to the lesser charge of dangerous driving, thanks to some work by the WA Police Union Legal Team.
 
Michael was fined $1,200 plus ordered to pay $1,724 in court costs but the punitive measures did not stop there. 
 
Michael was also sanctioned managerially and faced the Section 23 Defaulter Parade where Deputy Commissioner Gary Dreibergs fined him three per cent of his base salary for 12 months and suspended his pursuit qualifications.
Michael, the experienced pursuit driver with more than 100 pursuits under his belt, now wants other officers to learn from his experience.
 
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, it’s not a nice thing to have to go through. No one should have to go through this,” Michael told Police News.
 
“I was just trying to do my job, I was just trying to catch an offender. There was no malice behind it, I wasn’t deliberately going out there trying to break the rules, nothing like that. I was just trying to catch the offender.”
 
On the night of the incident, Michael said some of the confusion lay because the pursuit was aborted and re-started a number of times.
 
“They (POC) keep saying keep following, keep calling, we told them what the car was doing and they said: ‘yep, keep calling it, where is it now, we’ve got a stinger up the road, where it is now, where is it now, how fast it is going,’ that sort of thing,” Michael said.
 
“We were being told to keep following it because there was a stinger up ahead and that was the grey area, they were telling us to do one thing and then internals say you can’t do that because that’s not the policy.
“There wasn’t an exemption, they didn’t say you had an exemption to keep following but they sort of said keep following, keep giving updates and then every inspector seems to have a different rule as to what they will and will not allow.”
 
Michael said he was not pursuing the vehicle at the time of the fatal accident.
 
“We turned lights and sirens off and backed right off and we were just monitoring it,” he said.
 
“I was thinking the vehicle can’t see where we are. I wasn’t trying to pursue the car or anything like that, I was just trying to monitor it. I didn’t want to put lights and sirens on because I didn’t want her to think we were trying to pursue her.”
 
Michael and his partner came across the offender after the collision with the motorbike. Michael assisted the rider while the ambulance was travelling to the scene while his partner apprehended the offender.
 
The initial view on the night of the crash was that everything would be fine however that changed in the months that followed.
 
“I never thought I was going to get charged,” Michael said.
 
After an internal investigation, Michael was stood aside for five months while his matter proceeded through the court process. His partner was also sanctioned for her actions in this incident.
 
WAPU Senior Vice President Mick Kelly said the Union supported Michael right through the process, from the night of the incident, through the courts and finally with the defaulter’s parade. 
 
“There is no doubt Michael is a very experienced pursuit driver and every police officer in this State needs to read his story and consider what he has been through because it could easily happen to them,” Mr Kelly said.
 
“Our view is that Michael believed he was doing everything he was told to do. The problem in this instance is the policy is difficult to implement practically.”
 
Mr Kelly said police officers are not only held to a very high legislative account, they are then also investigated and can face breaches against the police force regulations.
 
“Over time the pursuit policy has been refined and officers must understand it and are reminded that they can’t rely on it as a statutory defence to dangerous and/or reckless driving.
 
“The policy is made with the best of intent but the challenge for police officers is to ensure they exercise reasonable care in order to receive the statutory protection provided by regulation 280 of the Road Traffic Code and sections 61A and 61B of the Road Traffic Act. Officers must act substantially within policy to gain these protections.
 
“In my view, if an officer decides it is too hard to pursue a vehicle because of all the checks and balances then they need to make the tough call and terminate the pursuit.”
 
Mr Kelly said the Union would continue to support Members involved in on-duty incidents who act in good faith and without malice, which is why WAPU supported Sen. Const. Gordon.
 
“It is a disappointing outcome for him personally, but credit to him, he has accepted his punishment, moved on and now wants others to learn from his experience.”
 
Michael said he will be reluctant to pursue vehicles, if he gets his qualifications back.
 
“The first time I’m in a pursuit, I would definitely be a lot more reserved then I was before,” he said.
 
“It’s not worth it half the time, it is risk versus reward. I still get paid at the end of the day regardless of if I catch the offender or don’t catch them.
 
“It is not worth going through all the stuff I’ve been through for the last two years.” 
 
Michael’s advice to his fellow police officers is to make sure they are up to date with the policy.
 
“Read the policy exactly, word for word and make sure you do everything as it says because everyone has CCTV, dash cameras, everything else these days and everything you do is going to be filmed by someone.
“Know exactly what you can and can’t do and don’t try and cross that grey line.”
 
Michael said sometimes the pursuit is made difficult if there is an inexperienced partner in the passenger’s seat.
 
“Usually you are working with a really junior person who might have only been in one or zero pursuits before so you are trying to help them call it because they can’t call it very well,” Michael said.
 
“There is no training in the academy for calling a pursuitso most of them don’t know what they are doing. I talk to other pursuit drivers and they have the same issues. Most people have no training at all being the passenger in a car in a pursuit and what they need to do.”
 
Michael believes the situation could be improved if cars had hands-free installed like the canine vehicles do, enabling the driver to drive and call the pursuit.
 
“If you could actually call and drive at the same time so you don’t have to worry about telling them what to say for them to relay and then listen to the response at the same time. It would actually be easier to do it all yourself sometimes.”
 
Mr Kelly said police officers are given some training in relation to radio usage during their recruit training.
 
“This is further enhanced with scenario-based training during the Priority One and Priority Pursuit courses and as a result of this incident more emphasis has been placed on calling pursuits during recruit training.”
 
While this experience has changed his view of police pursuits, Michael still believes they are necessary.
 
“I think pursuits are needed in certain circumstances. For someone who has a fine or a suspended license probably not but for escaped prisoners, armed robbers that is what it is really for. “But if they are on the wrong side of the road, just turn around, pull the car over, it is not worth the heartache in the end.”
 
By Steven Glover