Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The alcocop paradox

It was a bit of a lark listening to Police HRD manager Wayne Annan's interview yesterday on NatRad, explaining away the latest drunk cop to get pinged on the open road. There is no systemic abuse of alcohol in the police according to him, just a few individuals prone to human error.

In this case, a police trainer at Police College had attempted to drive home so drunk, only his taxpayer funded driving lessons saved him from wrapping himself around a pedestrian crossing pole. It comes not one year after another (individual human) cop was found passed out outside a Johnsonville petrol station, before scuttling off home and avoiding an evidential breath test. Years before that, police commissioners Doone and Broad have both have had close shaves with the bottle and driving. Little wonder they need a chauffeur.

I suspect the only reason these two cases above made the news was because of irrefutable evidence from the public that couldn't be swept under the carpet. Too many witnesses. Without going into too much detail, I have acquaintances who have been harrassed and intimidated by police for being at the wrong place and the wrong time when cops drive drunk.

There is no question that Annan was going into bat for the police. That's his job. But defying reality is another matter entirely. This became obvious when Kathryn Ryan pulled him up about the Police College bar procedures being cleaned up; no more jugs, no more drinking games. Obviously, these were condoned before someone spoiled the fun and something had to be done.

There's a slight difference between these two recent examples of police behaving badly. The Police College bar is covered by the Sale of Liquor Act but the police bar in the latter case is exempt. While the Law Commission will almost certainly remove the loophole that allows police bars to operate on a different authority, will including them all under one law really make a difference?

I cannot imagine booze checkpoints set up outside police bars to catch drunk police, nor trust police to neutrally ensure police bar patrons are treated the same as the civilian counterparts they keep in check. It's the old Who Watches the Watchmen argument that the 1989 Sale of Liquor Act quietly ignored by allowing the cop bar cop-out.

So what if police bars are included in a new Sale of Liquor Act? Can you seriously imagine any public disagreement at the District Licencing Agency to a police bar renewing its licence like every other booze barn? Who will perform the walk-ins to ensure compliance? DIA? The IPCA? Not likely.

The only realistic solution is hinted at in Annan's interview. The point he makes that police deserve their own private bar away from the citizens is the weakest part of his argument. This is not Fallujah. In spite of police impressions that they are fighting an insurgency, there is no reason for the police to hide away in their own little private club. Close the police bars. Let them drink where everyone else does. If they get caught up in the net with other drunk drivers, so be it. It's called leading by example, and Dagg knows the cops need something to lift their reputation.