Editorial: New Year rings in change for better

Not so many years ago, Nelson on New Year's Eve was a place you'd want to ensure kids, mums and grannies avoided at any cost. Drunken "revellers" (read idiots) prowled the streets, bottles in hand, ready to punch anyone they didn't like the look of, or embrace or grope those they did.

Push-shove confrontations between groups from Christchurch or Blenheim v Nelson youths, or even between pupils from various local colleges, were common. From 11pm on you'd need to tread carefully to avoid litter, from broken glass to human waste in its various forms.

What a difference a decade makes. The councils have imposed alcohol bans in potential troublespots. The city council organises events with an alcohol-free, family focus, and its "street ambassadors" patrol in the small hours. Young visitors are being well catered for and discreetly supervised, too, at the Maitai camp.

The police have stepped up their presence in the inner city - and not just on the last day of the year. They have taken a consistently tough approach to those who look ready to cause trouble on weekend evenings throughout the year. Other authorities, bar and cafe owners and the like have played their part as well. It's easy enough to complain about the police, and sometimes they do give cause. However, it is just as important to give praise when it is due. And clearly that is the case on this occasion.

Hopefully the message that Nelson Bays area commander Inspector Steve Greally and his team have been hammering home throughout 2012 is starting to sink in: That alcohol is no excuse for bad behaviour, and those people who are in town and looking for trouble will be identified by the police and removed from the streets before they find it.

Time will tell, but perhaps the police crackdown is beginning to lead to a change in attitude and an increasing maturity among those Nelson people who too often were putting themselves and the rest of the community at risk. The city does feel a safer place now - touch wood - and that is worth acknowledging and applauding. We ask and expect much of our police officers, and it is heartening when they can be seen to be delivering.

Almost everyone driving in Nelson city last night would have been stopped by a police checkpoint - perhaps more than once. That only four of 2080 drivers stopped and checked were found to be drunk at the wheel is a tribute both to the police for getting the message out so strongly and consistently, and even more so to the public for recognising their limits and acting responsibly.

A zero strike rate would have been even better - and perhaps that sets a target for all of us to aim for in 364 days from now. And come to think of it, while the police were happy enough with 28 arrests across the province overnight, that also should be put into perspective.

There was only one arrest at the main New Year's Eve event in Christchurch, at Hagley Park, and a handful elsewhere in the South Island's main city. On that result - and even if some of the Garden City's hard cases were in this region for the night - we can do better yet.

The Nelson Mail