Victorian Police Can Now Shoot Hostile Drivers. Let’s Explain

An update in the Victorian Police Manual has given police officers the power to shoot and kill any drivers who are deliberately or recklessly risking the lives of others. It’s the first state in Australia to grant these powers to officers in emergency situations. Here’s what you need to know.

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Why can Victorian police now shoot to kill?

According to Sydney Morning Herald, drivers deliberately aiming to cause harm on members of the public by driving through pedestrian-only footpaths may be shot and killed thanks to a new order added in to the Victoria Police Manual (VPM).

But before a shoot to kill order can be undertaken, officers will first need to employ stationary blockades by using police cars or commandeering heavy commercial vehicles such as garbage trucks or any other object, such as road sticks or police spikes, in order to stop an attack or the threat of one.

Victorian police will now be trained online from mid-December and then shown ramming techniques to employ in these sorts of situations after 1 January 2020. Previously, only the Special Operations Group and Critical Incident Response Team were trained to use ramming techniques in these situations.

Importantly, the Crimes Act 1958 has been updated, according to comments made by Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton in a press conference, to give police the power to act with lethal force to prevent an attack from happening. That’s before any public harm is done.

Lifehacker Australia has asked Victorian Police for access to the VPM but it would not supply it to us without paying a fee or having us visit the Victorian State Library.

Why now?

Victoria has seen a number of high profile hostile vehicle attacks in recent years. In January 2017, a driver intentionally drove on footpaths in Melbourne’s CBD, leaving six people killed and a further 27 injured. In a separate attack later that year in December, another driver deliberately ran a red light and hit crossing pedestrians on Flinders Street. This attack left one dead and 18 others injured.

While bollards have been installed in many of high volume pedestrian areas in Melbourne and elsewhere, like Sydney’s Martin Place, these changes are in response to bolstered efforts to prevent further attempts.

What’s considered ‘deliberate’ or ‘reckless’?

This part is not clear without referring to the VPM but Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said in a press release, the new policy is referring to “when a person, in the circumstances, is deemed to be deliberately or recklessly going to use that vehicle, or threaten to use that vehicle, to kill people or seriously injure them.”

According to Sydney Morning Herald, the manual identifies three primary risk groups: terrorists mounting single or multi-vehicle attacks in crowded areas, mentally-ill offenders and criminals attempting to flee a scene, putting others at risk.

While the first risk group is obvious, it’s the second and third risk group that seems less clear. How police will determine whether someone is a mentally-ill offender or whether a fleeing criminal is putting the public at risk remains to be seen.

Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told The Age the new policy gives Victorian officers the power to act appropriately to violent attacks.

“We will not wait for offenders to plough into people. The instructions are that you must do something, that you must stop these attacks and that the response must be proportionate and justified,” Patton said to The Age.

Lifehacker Australia has reached out to Victoria Police to confirm what’s specified within the VPM.

Who does this new policy really affect?

Like any new law, it only really affects drivers doing an illegal action. But while the policy might be more clear cut against someone committing an act of terror and deliberately aiming to harm many people, it seems to be a bit more murky regarding opportunist carjackers or other lesser offences. Those acts are illegal in themselves but whether they would fall under the new hostile vehicle policy is an important question to raise. A teenager going for a joyride, without intentionally trying to harm anyone, might be dangerous, but do they deserve to be shot and killed by the police too?

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[Via Sydney Morning Herald]


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