First rammer enters the slammer

… and calls for more to pay the price

By Brendan Roberts

The issue of police car rammings, a key campaign focus for TPAV in 2017 following an alarming increase in the cowardly crime against our members, has re-emerged in recent weeks with further scrutiny placed on the punishment handed to offenders.

Following a sharp spike in police car rammings, which saw the crime soar to three a week in 2017, The Police Association launched a public campaign to “put rammers in the slammer”.

The Government listened to our concerns and acted, announcing new offences and harsher penalties for criminals found guilty of the offence including mandatory minimum two-year jail terms for those who ram police intentionally and cause injury to a member.

Maximum penalties for intentionally engendering an emergency service worker by driving were raised to 20 years jail while the alternative charge of recklessly endangering an emergency service worker by driving can now draw a sentence of up to 10 years.

The first test of this new legislation came in the County Court of Victoria last month where 25-year-old Matthew Jager pleaded guilty to leading officers on a high-speed pursuit in a stolen car through Melbourne’s outer west in July last year.

The court heard Jager baited police to follow him before hitting speeds of 130kmh in a 60kmh zone and yelling “I’m gonna ram ya”.

Jager drove the vehicle across two lanes of traffic and a ­median strip on the Western Highway, then abruptly stopped and reversed into the police car, with two members inside, and sped away.

The members were left with cuts and bruises, with one telling the court in a victim impact statement: “(I) felt like we were going to be killed … the moment of impact replays in my head all the time. I shouldn’t have fear when I go to work.”

Her partner said it had caused him to reconsider his career in the police force.

“I didn’t sign up to policing to have people drive cars at me,” he told the court.

Jager, who was charged with intentionally endangering an emergency services worker by driving, was eligible to receive the mandatory minimum two-year jail sentence.

The judge sentenced him to a maximum five years jail for the ramming offence.

TPAV secretary Wayne Gatt was pleased that the new legislation had passed its first test.

 “The sentencing outcome reflects what the legislation set out to do; to place a premium on the safety of our members and to eradicate what had become a dangerous criminal scourge in Victoria, the ramming of police vehicles,” he said.

“The legislation, heavily advocated for by The Police Association and introduced by the government, has established an important precedent that we hope is followed in subsequent decisions.”

“We have always said there is no excuse for injuring a police officer at work. This sentence affirms that statement.”

The financial toll of police car rammings was also recently examined by the Herald Sun newspaper.

The article revealed that in the past two years, offenders who rammed police vehicles had caused $800,000 damage.

Figures obtained under freedom of information laws revealed that more than 270 police vehicles were rammed between 2017 and 2018 and the average cost to fix each one was almost $3000.

Wayne told the Herald Sun that the cost should be worn by offenders.

“Rammings are a crime against police and against the community. Not only does this cowardly act place our members in direct physical danger, the resultant damage to police vehicles means that those vehicles and the patrols they facilitate in the community are lost until repairs are carried out,” he said.

“We believe that the cost of those repairs should be borne by the offender by way of restitution, not by taxpayers, but that is not always the case.”

The Police Association will continue to monitor ramming cases as they appear before the courts.