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.
Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said the constable feared for his life when he shot at the car as the driver tried to run him over 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.
Chief Commissioner Ken Lay revealed on Fairfax Radio that six cars had been shot at by police in the past 12 months and described it as a ‘‘worrying trend’’.
Mr Cornelius said police were trained not to fire at cars unless absolutely necessary, but he believed the officer involved in the latest shooting feared he would be killed if he did not pull the trigger.
Forensics police have not recovered the bullets.
The policeman had contacted his colleagues when hoons approached an area near Frankston Gardens Drive about 10.30pm.
He then noticed a car leaving the scene and walked towards it to try and 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 that the 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.
He was confident the member involved had only fired his semi-automatic pistol because he thought he would be seriously injured or killed otherwise.
‘‘We have made it clear to our members in recent times that shooting at vehicles is inherently risky,’’ he said. ‘‘The key thing for me is that I must be able to look my members in the eye and say I trust you.’’
The Frankston crime investigation unit is investigating. That probe will be overseen by the professional standards department as it involves the a firearm being discharged while on duty.
Carrum Downs has long been linked with hoon activity.
Fairfax Media reported last February that the local highway patrol had infiltrated a hoon gang in 2011, leading to prosecutions and impounded cars.
The police used hidden cameras, data from a Frankston City Council hoon hotline and detailed street-view mapping to break the gang, and deployed automatic number plate recognition, which scans vehicles for known offences.
Carrum Downs and nearby Frankston and Langwarrin had 12 road fatalities in 2011 and a history of multiple-death crashes, Transport Accident Commission figures dating back to 1987 reveal.
Seven people died in two months in 2011. Senior Constable Ross Randall told Fairfax last February that while the number of fatalities in the area was stable due to increased policing, it was still high.
’’We have a pretty high number of idiots out this way,’’ Senior Constable Randall said.