On the frontline

Last updated 12:00 15/08/2012
Boy racers
WARWICK SMITH/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Despite the possibility of having their cars crushed, boy racers are still taking to Palmerston North streets.

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Despite the possibility of having their cars crushed, boy racers are still taking to Palmerston North streets.

JONO GALUSZKA spends a night out with a police officer as he tries to keep the troublemakers in check.

The clock has just struck 12 on a chilly Friday night as Palmerston North police officer Constable Ross Andrew turns his car into a cul-de-sac on the edge of the city.

"Let's take the tactical approach," he says.

Which is?

"Go in all lights blazing and hope we find something going on."

Either side of the street is lined with cars, about 60 in total. Some are tinted, some are lowered, and all are surrounded by young people. The majority of the crowd are holding some kind of alcoholic beverage, with RTDs looking like the drink of choice.

Most see the marked police car and begin to yell to their friends, letting them know "the pigs are here" or something to that effect.

As the car nears the end of the street, a man in the middle of the road waves his arms at someone ahead of us to stop them from doing something.

That something becomes quickly obvious as we make it to the end of the cul-de-sac.

The road is streaked with lines of black tyre rubber. The stench they ooze is thick.

Everyone is looking at the one car which should not be there - the one car that is breaking up their fun.

Andrew says he is expecting trouble, which is hardly news. The looks on the faces peering into the car say it all - angry, frustrated and annoyed.

But the tension eventually settles and the cars slowly drive off to another location.

This is just another Friday night for Andrew, keeping an eye on the horde of boy racers who cruise Palmerston North streets.

We start our patrol at 9pm and at first the night is fairly quiet.

It consists of driving around the areas where boy racers are likely to go and pulling over the odd car for smaller offences - driving slightly over the speed limit or not stopping at a stop sign.

Andrew says they used to congregate in The Square, but the liquor ban put paid to that.

Instead, they begin about 9pm, driving along rural roads and meeting in industrial areas.

For Andrew, this is the calm before the storm. A speeding driver here and there are all he finds in the first few hours of his shift.

But it is a chance to see the places where people - usually young males - have taken risks and come off second best.

We drive down Flygers Line and Andrew points out the spot where 16-year-old Christopher Johnson died.

On July 27, 2008, the car he was in smashed into a roadside barrier while drag racing and he was impaled by debris.

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"On the anniversary of that boy's death, a big group came out here and did burnouts," Andrew says.

There are fresh skid marks on the road, evidence that the spot is still well frequented by boy racers.

Down the road, he gestures to a hole in a hedge.

"Two guys were racing down here and clipped each other. One rolled five times through there and ended up in a tree."

Andrew says he is surprised at how low the casualty rate is among boy racers.

"The amount of cars we have out on the road doing this, we don't get the crashes you would expect."

He says it is not because of skill on the drivers' part, but luck.

He turns the car back towards town, and pulls into the BP service station in Rangitikei St about 11.30pm.

The place is heaving with cars. About 60 of them pack the forecourt, taking up all the pumps and leaving no room for anyone to buy fuel.

It is nothing new, with a BP spokesman last year saying he did not mind them turning up because they were generally harmless.

Andrew says boy racers use the service station as a meeting point.

He recognises some, but most are unfamiliar.

"Plenty come up from Levin, as far away as Wellington.

"A few Fridays ago, about 150 made the trip from Wellington.

"That may not sound like a lot of cars, but when they're all travelling together and all going to the same place, they can cause chaos."

The night from here plays out like a repetitive game of cat and mouse: boy racers drive in a convoy to a location and try to stay hidden, police manage to hunt them down and move them on, boy racers drive to another location, where police break them up again.

At each location, Andrew sits and waits for someone to do something which warrants him pulling them over. It could be anything from a burnout to throwing an empty bottle at the police car.

But most are smart enough to not push the envelope. A small indiscretion could result in a car being impounded.

From the midnight cul-de-sac, the boy racers head in convoy to Kelvin Grove, all except one, who heads down Stoney Creek Rd.

Andrew tries to follow, but it is quickly obvious the car in front is driving well over the speed limit. Andrew accelerates in an attempt to catch up.

By the time we make it to the intersection with Kelvin Grove Rd, the driver is long gone.

"He's obviously not been going 100kmh to get that far this fast," Andrew says.

We follow a convoy to the new Countdown supermarket, where drivers are tearing around the car park.

Two men ditch their car and take to another set of wheels, with a shopping trolley looking like more fun. They nearly hit Andrew's car at one point.

While driving around the car park, Andrew sees a car he recognises. The lights go on, they pull over and he begins a thorough check of the car.

He is on the ground checking tyres and suspension, then makes sure the indicators are working.

After a solid five minutes of checking the car over, he serves it with a green sticker - the driver now needs to take it off the road until it is fixed.

The exhaust is exposed and leaking, the suspension isn't right and it is obvious from the smell that the occupants have been doing burnouts. The driver looks unimpressed, but takes it on the chin.

Andrew says targeting familiar cars usually gets a result, because they are more likely to have had illegal work done on them.

From here, it is back to another cul-de-sac - Makomako Rd.

By now, plenty of people have a lot of booze on board and start to try get chummy with Andrew by complimenting the police car.

"Bro, this is grouse as, got mean power. It would waste a Skyline," one says.

"This would be mean for skids," says another.

Andrew tries to keep on their side.

"I would love it for the first minute, but it's not worth my job."

Another finds the whole scenario comical.

"What are you up to, man? What's your deal? Why do you keep following us?"

Andrew tells him we're just seeing what they're up to.

The man, clearly intoxicated, begins to debate the point of us keeping tabs on them, but Andrew is not in the mood.

"You're starting to annoy me, mate."

All the while, people showboat for the photographer, posing on their rides.

Andrew says the problem is catching them doing something wrong.

"You can see the skid marks and smell it, but you can't get them for sitting in their cars."

The sheer numbers are also a problem. It is impossible for two or three police on patrol to impound up to 100 cars.

Despite tougher legislation being brought in, including the option to impound and crush cars, Andrew says behaviour has not changed.

"There are a couple around who are close to getting crushed, but they don't care.

"They're young and think they can get away with it."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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