Saturday, March 11, 2017

Karl du Fresne: How to alienate your best friends

I find myself in the unfamiliar situation of being in agreement with Winston Peters. The New Zealand First leader thinks the police have lost the plot, and so do I.

Peters has attacked the police for wanting to curtail the right of people to take their own wine and beer to race meetings. He uses his customary blustering rhetoric, describing the police as politically correct wowsers and comparing them with Nazis.

But he’s right when he says government policy should recognise that the vast majority of New Zealanders treat alcohol responsibly – a fact wilfully ignored by zealots in the police hierarchy, the public health sector and the universities, who think we’re all helpless drunks.  

Peters is also undoubtedly correct when he predicts that a prohibition on people taking their own alcohol to race meetings would soon become a blanket ban on alcohol at other community events, and possibly even family picnics.

The latest police proposal surfaced in a briefing paper on ways to reduce “alcohol-related harm” – three words that I suspect the staff at Police Headquarters in Wellington are required to chant for five minutes at the start of every working day to remind them of their primary mission.

The briefing paper identified BYO alcohol at race meetings as a “key issue”. This caused immediate alarm on the West Coast, where the Kumara race meeting, at which people have traditionally been allowed to drink their own alcohol, is a signature event on the social calendar.

West Coast mayor Bruce Smith says that if the police get their way, they will kill off an event that has been attracting West Coast families for 134 years. And you can be sure the Kumara races won’t be the only meeting affected.

I’ve often attended the races at the picturesque Tauherenikau course, in the Wairarapa. It’s an old-style, family-friendly country race meeting that attracts people from Wellington as well from the Wairarapa.

As at Kumara, people are allowed to take their own liquor. Many racegoers arrive early and set up picnic tables under the trees, often in the same spot they’ve occupied for years.  There are no bag searches or other controls.

And you know what? In all the years I’ve been attending the Tauherenikau races, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who was visibly drunk, still less behaving badly.  The police are barely visible.

Yet the police hierarchy claims to have identified race meetings as a “key” cause of alcohol-related harm. This represents the latest step in a long campaign by police to redefine themselves as moral custodians whose primary function is not so much to prevent crime or catch crooks as to protect society from its own foolishness.

There have been innumerable examples in recent years of this Mother Hen approach to policing. In Wellington, police have subjected bar owners to such harassment that the city’s most experienced and respected hospitality operator – a man whose bars and restaurants have an exemplary record – declared last year that bar owners now saw the police as the opposition, not an ally.

Heavy-handed policing was also blamed when the once spectacularly successful Wellington Rugby Sevens fell out of favour with the public. It just wasn’t fun anymore.

It’s significant that Peters has now taken hold of this issue. No politician has a keener nose for public discontent, and his nostrils will be twitching more than ever in an election year when his party stands a good chance of holding the balance of power.

He will have noted that the single-minded, anti-liquor mindset adopted by the police hierarchy is putting officers offside with the community they are paid to serve.

I picked up a sudden, unmistakeable change of mood a couple of summers ago, when – without prompting from me – friends began expressing their irritation about being breath-tested on their way to work, or complaining about the bullying demeanour of police officers at outdoor events where people were harmlessly (and legally) enjoying a drink.

I have also noted a growing public feeling that police priorities are cockeyed and their resources misused. Ninety per cent of burglaries go unsolved and victims of crime frequently complain that calls to the police go unheeded.

A business owner told me last week that even when he provided the police with video footage of organised shoplifters at work, and evidence of their identity, no action was taken. Yet the police always seem to have enough officers for alcohol checkpoints, even in places and at times of day when the likelihood of catching drunk drivers must be minimal.

If I’m hearing this, the politicians must be hearing it too. Likewise, police officers in the community must be aware of mounting dissatisfaction.

What should especially concern the police and government is that the grumbling is coming not from the usual habitual complainers, but from conservative, law-abiding people – the type whose natural inclination is to respect and support the police. It takes a special sort of incompetence – or perhaps I should say dogmatic zeal – to alienate your best friends. 

Karl du Fresne blogs at First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

Fully support your position. But I sense a weariness to fight. We don't have clearly differentiated political parties. We moaned virulently about nanny state under Labour but are we experiencing anything less under National? (And can any thinking person support the autocratic Peter's Party on this issue alone?)

Brian said...

Are your best friends the Police.?

They should be, and while agreeing with Karl’s blog I have some reservations.

Such as “How much interference are our Politicians making with the top brass in the Police force?

They (our elected and non elected Parliamentarians) are we have to admit, in a wonderful position of being able to issue instructions (mainly if they are wise, of the oral type), together with their inclinations over alcohol abuse leaving the Police with having to enforce and what is more important “take the blame”.!

With our prisons overflowing no Politician (especially in an election year) will want to come forward and say we need more prisons to deal more harshly with drunks and the like. Certainly not in N.Z. with a strong lobby now demanding “No Prisons” and “let us be first in getting rid of this archaic system for it is not the answer to lock people up” etc.

Boy oh Boy does this ring a very loud bell in an election year!

If the Police continue down this pathway of enforcing Nanny State answers with the accompanying regulations and rules it will open up as it did with tobacco the way forward to prohibition; it is after all a natural progressive step.

Still we can comfort ourselves with the remark by Babe Ruth on prohibition in America during the 1920’s and 1930’s.


This whole affair should not come as a surprise to us, we have a Parliament were a minority rules the roost. This is merely just another symptom of our age and immaturity; when a few in this case make it impossible for the majority to enjoy a reasonable tipple.

paul scott said...

This is the second post Karl has had to introduce the Police tendency towards inventing and then implementing social law. [ previous article hate speech ]

My own experience with alcohol was staggering, but I have now studied entities such as the "Alcohol Action" group.
Brifely they describe 700,000 New Zealanders as dangerous drinkers, and they want >
1/ Tight alcohol control 2/ Reduced access 3/ Increased age of purchase 4/ Restrictions on marketing 5/ Recognition that alcohol causes all evils [ just made that up, but close ]
6/ Acceptance that most road accidents are alcohol related / associated / causal .
8/ Deportation of Eric crampton to Canada [ just made that up also ]

As an after thought they seemed to recognise that alcoholsm needed teatnmenr opportunities.

Now, NZ First.
If a person goess to the web site one will quickly see that this party has stuck close to its principles, policies and agenda through the decade.
National on the other hand .. umm .. er Does National have any policy, no thats right its a PR campaign Government, wised up by old slackjaw himself.