Undercover cops in pubs raise hackles

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 05/07/2014

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Police may soon be drinking on the job as part of new undercover stings in southern pubs.

Undercover cops will now mingle with punters as part of a new Southern District police initiative.

Police would not clarify if their officers would be boozing on the job other than to say they would "blend in" with other patrons.

Hospitality industry and publicans are livid at the new tactics.

Hospitality Association chief executive Bruce Robertson said it was outrageous police would be spying on patrons.

"We really think our patrons will be concerned [that] police feel they need to sit in bars and count how many drinks a customer is drinking and looking at their behaviour," he said.

It was also an absolute waste of police resourcing, Robertson said. "Surely they are much better off finding criminals than spying on our patrons."

The move had the potential to also send patrons to the bottle shop and drinking at home, Robertson said. "People come to a pub to relax, celebrate or grieve. Knowing there could be a policeman spying on them has the potential to make them uncomfortable and drive them away and back into their homes."

Longtime Winton publican John McHugh said the move put further responsibility on the licensee and not on the individual.

"The industry is already doing all it can to make licensed premises a safe and controlled environment," he said.

Uniformed police visits and controlled purchase operations were accepted by licensees but undercover police in pubs went too far, McHugh said.

McHugh said he felt like an easy target. "It's a bit like going duck shooting in Invercargill at Queens Park. You are always going to get something."

Acting area commander Otago Rural Inspector Andrew Burns said police were not looking to create problems. "We just want to make sure the hospitality industry is complying with its obligations."

The undercover officer would monitor patrons' level of intoxication and how that was being managed by the licensee and managers.

If staff members observed an incident of intoxication and believed it could amount to an offence or escalate they would call an intervention team.

The team would usually include police, local council licensing inspectors and Public Health South representatives.

Southern licensees should not be surprised if an undercover officer came in for a drink, Burns said. "They have all been told and should be already managing the issues," he said.

He did not believe the presence of an undercover officer would make patrons uncomfortable. "Police will go in like any other person going into a pub to have a drink."

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