Hyde brands hoons 'common criminals'http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,25257581-5006301,00.html
HARDCORE repeat traffic offenders should be treated as criminals and not given "a pat on the head" in court, Police Commissioner Mal Hyde believes.
Revealing new research into those who engage police in high-speed pursuits, Mr Hyde says the "attitude and thinking" of the State's magistrates needs to change, to intervene in serious cases to stop them reaching their inevitable conclusion.
He believes chronic traffic offenders should be sentenced as criminals to break their cycle of re-offending because - as the research reveals - it was highly likely they would later be involved in a high-speed police pursuit that would result in a major accident.
"The only point of intervention I can think of here is really the court, and how particular magistrates treat serious traffic offenders when they come before the court," he said.
"For some of these people, it is pretty hard for them to change their habits.
"You see some people come before the courts repeatedly, whether they are drink-drivers or speed-dangerous drivers, and not much happens . . . because the magistrates are thinking this is a traffic offence.
"The point I am making here is that we should not think like that; we should think about it as criminal behaviour because the risks are so great."
This week, two men aged 19 and 18 died after fleeing a routine police traffic stop in the Hills, while early yesterday, a 23-year-old-man died in a drag-race crash at Magill.
Mr Hyde's forthright comments came while discussing the findings of a major study into police pursuit in Adelaide over the past decade.
The study - the first of its kind - examined 74 high-speed chases between 1999 and 2008, in which there were either injuries or fatalities.
Its aim was to "profile" the drivers who engage police in high-speed pursuit - of which there have been more than 400 instances so far this financial year.
The study, which took several months to complete, found that:
ALL but four drivers had significant traffic offence histories.
23 DRIVERS had recorded more than 20 traffic offences - with 11 recording more than 40 offences each.
THE majority of drivers was either on parole, bail or home detention during the high-speed chase.
EACH driver had a record for other offences, including for robbery, sexual assault, burglary, property damage and drugs.
SEVEN drivers were younger than 15 and four were older than 50.
IN the 14 chases that ended in fatalities, the drivers were killed in 67 per cent of the chases, passengers in 20 per cent and innocent people in 13 per cent.
THERE were 100 serious injuries in the pursuits. Of those, 55 injured were drivers, 32 were passengers and 13 were in vehicles not involved in the pursuit.
Mr Hyde said the study found that just four offenders had no history of traffic offending, while - at the other extreme - two offenders had been involved in more than 60 traffic matters each.
"This is the point I make. How do we intervene, how do we stop this from happening?" he said.
"One way is to look at their driving behaviour. When they come to court for driving badly - I don't just mean traffic offences or speeding; if they come to court for a speed dangerous and they have a prior for speed dangerous - don't give them a pat on the head; because there is a fair chance there is going to be a fatality or serious injury somewhere down the track. These people who drive at extremely high risk, we should not think of them as traffic offenders, we should think about them as criminals; because their chance of either killing someone or seriously injuring somebody is very high.
"This is the sort of shift in thinking that I want people to make in terms of serious traffic offending."
Mr Hyde said while there had been many hundreds of pursuits during the 10-year period, the drivers in a large number of cases could not be identified because they were not apprehended.
However, an analysis of the drivers included in the study made it clear the vast majority were habitual traffic offenders whose risk-taking behaviour had escalated.
"Even though they are the ones most likely to be killed or injured, that's still something we should avoid if we can," Mr Hyde said.
"If they are repeat offenders, why aren't we doing something earlier in their pattern of behaviour to really try and get the message through, and try and change their behaviour?"
Although he believed harsher penalties were needed for repeat offenders, Mr Hyde would not be drawn on what they should be. He indicated they need to be "significant enough" to indicate "this sort of behaviour is not acceptable and will not be acceptable".
"We need to think about what sort of interventions will get a change in behaviour; otherwise, they are just going to hold the community to risk - it is just going to go on," he said.
"You can see the pattern of behaviour; they will just keep going until something happens - so let's try and stop it before it does."
An analysis of repeat traffic offenders' criminal offence histories added weight to the manner in which they should be treated when coming before court on serious traffic matters. "They are not Joe Average on the street; we should stop simply thinking about them as traffic offenders and do something more productive and serious and significant with the penalties."