POLICE have claimed public safety is their number one priority when deciding whether or not to chase young joyriders driving stolen cars in the Capital.
Superintendent Alan Porte said though he did not want officers to give teenage criminals the satisfaction of the chase, there was no “we will not pursue them” policy. Each case, he said, was assessed individually.
At the beginning of the year, one in six housebreakings resulted in a vehicle being stolen. While city police bosses claim the resurrected Operation RAC has clamped down on this crime spree, they are quick to defend their position on pursuits.
Supt Porte, who has been overseeing the crackdown, said youngsters were “doing it for thrills” and putting themselves and others in danger.
He said: “Suppose there’s a housebreaking and they steal a Focus RS, or a BMW. The issue is that we more than likely know who has stolen it.
“We know they are 15, 16, 17, we know they don’t have a driving licence, and haven’t been trained, and they are in a fast and powerful vehicle.
“I then have an option to pursue them using an equally powerful vehicle with specially trained police officers.”
He said that if a pursuit resulted in a deadly crash and led to a fatal accident inquiry, his position in some cases would be “totally indefensible” as he would have been aware that the criminals were not experienced drivers.
The dangers of pursuit were all too clear in the early hours of May 14 when a police car crashed through three gardens in Drum Brae Drive while chasing a stolen Mini.
Two officers were taken to hospital, while three other vehicles were feared to have been written off.
Supt Porte said the dangers of the “traditional” car chase were among the reasons why other resources had been brought in as part of the crackdown.
“We have used the helicopter and will continue to use it as an appropriate response to thefts of cars and motorcycles,” he said. “It’s a great tool which allows us to pursue these cars but not in a traditional pursuit.
“It does not heighten the danger, and it allows those on the ground to make arrests.”
Other specialist units, including mounted police and trained dogs, have also been harnessed for Operation RAC.
And Supt Porte insisted that deciding against a police car chase was “absolutely not letting them away with it”.
He said: “These kids are out there to get a thrill, so by pursuing them, are we going to give them that thrill?
“We are having real success in other ways.
“We don’t have a ‘we will not pursue them’ policy. We have officers who are pursuit-trained, but they, in conjunction with officers at the area control room, will make a decision based on time of day, speed involved and the circumstances of the incident.”