– The policeman who fired two shots at a speeding car during an operation targeting hoons was alone and in plain clothes when he pulled the trigger.
As Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said police shooting at cars had become a worrying trend, detectives were hunting for the men who escaped after trying to run down the officer.
Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said the constable feared for his life when he shot at the car in Melbourne’s south-east on Tuesday night.
The officer, who missed the car with both shots, had been a plain clothes spotter during an operation in Carrum Downs to smash a hoon-driving ring that had terrorised residents between Dandenong and Frankston in recent weeks.
More than 100 cars had gathered for street drag races when police swooped.
Mr Cornelius said it was possible the driver of the car had not realised the man pointing a gun at him was a police officer.
Mr Lay revealed on Fairfax Radio on Wednesday that at least six cars had been shot at by police in the past 12 months.
Mr Cornelius said police were trained not to fire at cars unless absolutely necessary, but he believed the officer involved in the latest incident feared he would be killed if he did not shoot.
Forensic police have not recovered the bullets from the semi-automatic pistol.
The policeman had contacted his colleagues when hoons approached an area in a factory car park on Frankston Gardens Drive about 10:30 pm.
He then noticed a car leaving the scene and walked towards it to try to stop the driver. The driver, who had two passengers on board, sped towards the officer, who fired the shots while moving for cover.
The driver dumped the car shortly afterwards and fled with two other men. Nobody was injured in the incident.
Police were unable to find the men despite using a helicopter, the dog squad and officers on the ground in the search.
Mr Cornelius said police had been unable to identify the men, but had several leads.
He said the intelligence-based operation had been successful with 70 cars inspected, 20 drivers issued with defect notices, 20 P-plate drivers slapped with notices for driving high-powered cars and 30 people told their cars required further inspection.
But Mr Cornelius said police would determine whether better planning of the operation could have prevented the shooting occurring. “We have made it clear to our members in recent times that shooting at vehicles is inherently risky,” he said.
The Frankston Crime Investigation Unit is investigating. That probe will be overseen by the professional standards department, as the incident involves a firearm being discharged while an officer was on duty.
Carrum Downs has long been linked to hoon activity – Nino Bucci