Saturday night on the beat

Anna Williams on the beat with Blenheim Police
Anna Williams on the beat with Blenheim Police

It is a night full of promise for an uninitiated junior police reporter - a night shadowing police as they patrol the streets of Marlborough.

The Saturday night of the Blues, Brews and BBQs festival in Blenheim is sure to be full of men, women and teenagers stumbling around causing mischief after a day of drinking in the sweltering heat.

I arrive at the Blenheim police station at 8pm, eagerly ready to wait in the shadows and observe the dark underbelly of Marlborough.

Inspector Ross Lienert heads the Public Safety Unit, an additional police team working the "swing shift", an eight-hour shift from 7pm to 4am.

Mr Lienert says the unit is designed to have a more proactive role in policing. Its aim is to focus on risk management and public safety, including the safe travel of festival-goers to and from the event.

"The aim is to prevent crime before it's committed," he says.

Sergeant Rob Crawford, of Motueka, is leading the team of seven, made up of four Nelson officers and three from Blenheim.

Dressed in yellow police vests and armed with batons, the seven men march out of the station on to Main St about 9pm.

The night is warm and still as I adjust my bag to ensure my notepad is ready to go at the first sign of action. As we round the corner into Scott St, the Nelson officers survey their surroundings.

Not a lone figure is to be seen.

A few mumbled offerings from the Blenheim crew fill the silence, noting it is still early and the deserted streets are bound to fill in the next few hours.

A quick visit to Fairweathers bar in Scott St, followed by The Loft in Kinross St, reveals the pubs are virtually empty.

Back to the station to discuss the next move. After a perusal of the weekend papers and a brief recap, it is decided to travel to Picton.

I sit in the back seat of the police car (not on the left side; that's where arrested people sit) and we cruise up State Highway 1 to Picton.

It is definitely quieter than a regular Saturday night, the two officers up front decide.

"It's not like it used to be on a Blues and Brews weekend." In its prime a few years ago - almost 7000 festival-goers attended in 2007 - young crowds ambled up Maxwell Rd from the A & P Showgrounds and headed straight to the bars, where it was not unusual for groups of people to be arrested for drunk and disorderly behaviour.

This year it was estimated fewer than 2000 people were at the venue at any one time.

We arrive at Picton, pulling up behind the police van and another patrol car. A quick chat to the staff at Seumus's Irish Bar in Wellington St confirms the patrons are under control.

On to Mikeys Bar and Restaurant in High St, where the notes of a woman singing karaoke float out the door. Two officers venture further inside while the rest linger in the entrance, expressions carefully blank as the woman belts out an Abba song.

It is then back on the road to check in at the Crow Tavern in Nelson Square before returning to Blenheim. A live band struggles for attention as a Sevens match plays on the big screen; their attention briefly diverts to take in the police presence.

Back on the road and a discussion about the original singer of Psycho Killer ensues, followed by silence as we listen to the scanner as it intermittently bursts into life.

A call comes for officers in the vicinity to attend a party where an elderly woman has complained of a bottle being thrown into her property.

"You can't have old women getting bottles thrown at them," one officer says.

Sounds of raucous laughter and squeals can be heard somewhere in the distance.

Two officers go to check neighbouring properties.

One returns after 10 minutes, relaying offers of chicken and a foot massage, which he regrettably refuses.

A young man keeps furtively poking his head around the fence in curiosity, the glow from his cigarette giving him away.

After a brief stop at the station, it is time for another street patrol, this time with Mr Lienert.

"It's all about prevention first," he says as we linger at the back. "If we can get out there and stop it before it happens, we're doing something right."

The streets are still quiet but on our way back a report comes across the scanner of a party in McKenzie St where a woman has been hit by a vehicle. We pile back into the police car and screech out of the station car park.

Three police cars and a van arrive and park behind an ambulance waiting with its doors open.

A group of 15 or so people is on the driveway.

Voices are raised and one young woman charges out the gate, crying hysterically after claims of being punched in the face by her best friend's mother.

Two officers approach the crowd while the other five form a line on the footpath.

A woman is carried out and put on a stretcher, loudly heaving over the side as she is loaded into the ambulance with a suspected leg injury.

An officer is pushed by a young man and his colleagues spring into action, calmly instructing the partygoers to leave the house.

One man refuses.

"My keys are in there. I need to go back," he says repeatedly.

The officers listen patiently, their backs straight as the man obstinately refuses to move.

"I can't go, my window doesn't shut. If my car gets stolen it's your fault," he says, eyebrows raised in a determined glare.

His friend tries to pull him away, but he does not budge. One officer goes inside and retrieves the keys.

"My cellphone's in there, too. I'm not going anywhere until I get it. I'll sleep on the footpath."

After a two-minute standoff, his friend persuades him to leave, but not before he spits out an insult over his shoulder: " pigs."

One woman remains by the driveway, her partner waiting patiently for her to follow.

"My jacket's just over there. Can I quickly grab it please, officer?" she implores.

An officer reluctantly goes inside to fetch the coat and the rest of the lingerers depart, making their way down the footpath in a scattered group.

Inside the house, a few people remain on the porch, the crying woman from earlier still shedding tears, her sober mother attempting to placate her drunk daughter.

We get back into the car and drive slowly past the group of ejected partygoers.

The young man who pushed the officer shouts abuse, then makes a bubble noise, possibly intended to be insulting.

"Well, at least you've got something to write about," an officer says.


Police arrested seven people during the operation:

One arrest was made at the festival after a 17-year-old woman bit an officer.

Five people were arrested after the festival for alcohol-related offences and were released with pre-charge warnings.

One arrest was for a warrant issued to arrest.

A brewery also failed a controlled purchase operation and sold alcohol to a person aged under 18. The issue has been referred to the Liquor Licensing Authority. 

The Marlborough Express