Thrills, spills and police chases: a night on the town with Masterton police
1:40am on a frigid March morning. We're barrelling down Masterton's Dixon St, through deserted streets and past dimly lit alleyways. The roar of the Commodore's V8 mixes with the sirens of the cruisers behind in a swirling mix of sound.
It's normally a 50kmh zone, but the Commodore's going at least 80. It flies on to the roundabout near the local Countdown, and is about to veer right when the sergeant driving sees something out of the corner of his eye. Quickly he makes a full circuit of the roundabout. Wheels squeal as it pulls off and straight on to the tail of a white Chevrolet.
The sergeant floors it. The police car gains rapidly, the blue and red of its lights bouncing off road signs and fences. The Chevrolet takes a hard left into the notorious Miriam St, before abruptly pulling over. The police car slams on its brakes; the sergeant jumps out and runs over to the stationary Chevrolet, yanks open the door and pulls a young woman out of the driver's side. Two more police cars pull up behind, while one's already pulled in front. The woman, by now handcuffed against the car, is shouting. "Mum," she screams, desperately, towards a nearby house. "They've got me."
Tonight's the night
It's the final night of the Golden Shears. One of Masterton's landmark events, it was once an event filled with drunken brawls and packed police cells.
No longer. "That was back in the good old days ..." a policeman explained, before quickly correcting himself. "I mean, bad old days."
Still, if anything's going to happen, it's going to be tonight. All eyes are on the Horse & Hound, the only bar open on Saturday night and unpredictable come 1 in the morning. The previous week there had been a mass brawl outside around closing time; the week before that a thick, heavyset type had been laid out in the middle of the road directly across from the front door. It's that sort of bar.
'Kind of weird'
Come Saturday night, though, it's dead quiet. Police stifle yawns as they wander in and out of the station's main room, a typically drab, grey office with reams of paper tacked on the walls. There have been few callouts. I'm teamed up with a sergeant and a couple of other policemen; it's the B-team so, it's insinuated, don't expect too much excitement.
Around 10:30 the B-team heads out on its first job, recovering a Mazda stolen earlier in the day. After a confused trip through Queen Elizabeth Park, it eventually finds its way to a shady car park next to the Colin Pugh Sports Bowl. The Mazda sits forlornly at the back of the dark car park, with two young women standing around, waiting patiently.
While a couple of police wander around the car to check for signs of damage one woman – who turns out to be the owner – says it's the second time the car's been stolen. One of the policemen tells her there's been a rash of car thefts in town, Mazdas especially. "I suggest you lose the mags," he tells her. She nods.
At one point a white van drives up, does a slow circuit and drives off again. A couple of officers stare. "Well, that was kind of weird, wasn't it?" one of the women says as the van disappears back into the darkness.
The waiting game
It takes 40 minutes of waiting for a tow truck to arrive. Once that's done it's back to the station, where time ticks slowly by. At one point a policeman wanders in to grab something from a desk. "Considering it's the Golden Shears it's pretty bloody quiet," he says, to nobody in particular.
Eventually, with nothing exciting popping up, the B-team decides to take a cruise around town. They head out and down the eerily quiet streets. Isolated street lamps throw a white glow across the deserted footpaths.
The only place in town that's showing any sign of life is the Horse & Hound. The police head towards it and drive around the back, through a dark, dimly lit alley. Shouts and laughter from the bar echo off the concrete walls. Moments before heading back to the station, somebody is spotted slumped next to a step in an unlit corner of the alley. The police car backs up and the cops get out.
It turns out to be burly, six-foot-five Welshman, and he's out cold. One of the officers turns on a torch and shines it in the man's face. "Wake up, mate," he says, sternly. "You can't sleep here." After a few seconds the man comes around. He's completely drunk, and his thick accent – probably difficult to decipher at the best of times – makes him unintelligible.
After a brief back and forth it becomes clear he can't remember where he's staying or how he got there, so another police car turns up to take him to the cells. "OK, mate," an officer tells him as he walks him towards the squad car. "How about you come back with us, have a cup of Milo, and get a bit of sleep? No charges." The drunk Welshman grunts an assent.
When he slumps down in the other car, one of the cops asks him where he's from. "Wales!" he shouts. Grins all round. One of the officers looks at the man who spotted the Welshman in the first place. "If he throws up in the car it's your fault," she says, deadpan.
It's past midnight. The B-team keeps cruising. Songs flicker through a haze on the radio, but nobody's listening. More yawns.
Just before 1am a call comes over the radio and the car abruptly turns around and heads, at speed, towards the local McDonald's. They intercept a beaten-up Honda just as it lurches into the dirty, litter-strewn parking lot. Even though the squad car's lights are flashing, the Honda continues to make its way towards the drive through. One of the officers groans. "Please don't go through there," he says, shaking his head.
It eventually stops right in front of the drive-through entrance. Over the next 30 minutes car after car squeezes past, their drivers and passengers casting curious glances towards the unfolding scene. The driver's young, only 18. It turns out that he's already been disqualified from driving, so he's arrested on the spot.
He quietly makes his way into the back of the police car. He's tall but slouched, with scruffy clothes, a lopsided beanie and downcast eyes. On the way back to the police station he says little; the one time he talks, his voice cracks.
A call crackles
It's 1:30am. The main part of the police station appears nearly deserted. A screen in the middle of the room flickers images of wanted men and women, of crime hotspots in towns through Wellington and Wairarapa. A half-empty bowl of noodles sits next to a computer, put there by a policeman who had to disappear out the door and hasn't yet returned. A lone policeman slouches on a chair in the corner.
All of a sudden, a call crackles over a police radio somewhere in the room. The officer in the corner instantly sits up, grabs a vest and heads out of the room. Around the corner, the door to the police car park bangs open as officers sprint out, splitting up as they jump into stationary patrol cars.
The B-team's plainclothes car is first in line, idling with its lights on, ready to go. I jump in and the sergeant floors it in reverse, through a line of police cars, out the gates – and straight into the full throttle, tyre-squealing chase down Dixon Street.
When it's all over, when the young woman is in handcuffs and the other police cars have disappeared, the woman's mother and sister venture out. They sit on the kerb and talk as the woman aimlessly wanders around, talking to herself. Later, the reason police chased the car becomes clear: it allegedly drove through a crowd gathered outside the Horse & Hound after a fight.
After half an hour I step out of the car, and the mother immediately wanders over. "Don't you take any pictures," she warns, "you're violating her rights." Her other daughter hangs on her arm and gently, but firmly, pulls her backwards.
As they back away, the daughter begins to shout. "You want to know what happened to our people?" she says, her words echoing desperately down the empty street. "Where we went wrong, at where our people went wrong? Look at history, look where our people were oppressed, where we were taken over ..." her voice trails off as she keeps heading backwards, away from the flashing lights, her handcuffed sister, and back into the cool, dark night.