OPINION: The recent dust-up in Kawhia that left a local constable on the wrong end of a hiding brought to mind a great story from Taranaki history and a question about our support of the police.
Fellow Taranaki Daily News columnist Graeme Duckett wrote a piece about the rascal Dicky Noodles, who stole 23 cases of whisky and set sail to Mokau to sell it. The Waitara police got wind of the operation and a constable headed north on horseback at breakneck pace to feel Dicky's collar.
One wonders at the mettle of the average police officer today and whether any would feel the urge to uphold the law powerfully enough to ride a horse through the night to Mokau.
I suspect the sole-charge constable in Kawhia would be one who would have taken that ride.
As a toddler, I was separated from my family at the Hawke's Bay Blossom festival one year and found myself in custody. I can remember the lengths the senior went to calm me down and make me enjoy my ride in the "Black Maria".
He even let me talk on the bakelite radio handset on the way to the Hastings police station.
From that day on, the police could do no wrong as far as I was concerned. Once I even saved a young traffic officer from being bashed in a late-night Devon St clash with a few alcohol-fuelled locals, having my sternum split in the process.
For most of the public, their only personal contact with the police is interaction with traffic officer, usually at checkpoints, while going about their lawful business.
These checkpoints, with their shiny gear, flashing lights and boy- racer-style chase cars thrashing up and down the road, might look impressive to some, but to others they might appear like the thickening end of a police-state wedge.
Ditto the endless propaganda justifying the checkpoints that emanates from commanders.
However, the reality is that it's not the competent and alert average Joe driver who goes out and nails a whole family after four beers, but the chronic alcoholic who drives drunk time and time again and who the police know - or should.
It's not that reckless devil coming towards a highway patrol car at 112kmh on a straight, dry road who is a heinous criminal to be ticketed before he kills someone, but the idiot swerving all over the road, texting his girlfriend, who crashes head on into another car who the police should be looking for.
Is it the distracted mother with two or three noisy children in the car and a poodle on her lap who runs into the back of a stationary queue of cars in town, or is it the driver who thinks stop signs are for other idiots and who is easily detected?
Yes, the road toll has fallen and police can and do take pride in that achievement. However, how much impact have their activities really had on it, especially when you consider the disruption they cause and the gradual but sure erosion of their own wider social licence to operate?
Car manufacturers can clearly demonstrate radical drops in nose- to-tail crashes in particular, as a result of the development of ABS systems.
Stability control systems nanny the average driver and squash enthusiastic excesses of any erratic force. So many crashes could have been avoided over so many years if the drivers had not frozen in fear with their foot hard on the brakes and skidded, but cars these days don't allow it.
When the modern car does crash, because of the combination of airbags, belts, crumple zones, roll-over strength, safety glass and many other passive safety devices, people are likely to emerge shaken but not unduly stirred, with the most common injury being airbag burns and seat-belt bruising.
Few emergency personnel, from attending police to hospital staff, would not agree with that one.
The activities of the traffic section, their statements and paraded statistics are more designed to justify and increase their annual budgets and management salaries, than to actually save lives.
The Government allows it to continue because it's handy to have a populace who will unthinkingly stop and hand over their details.
At what price to the legacy of genuine public support of the real police force, though?
Would you, Joe Citizen, have waded in to save that Kawhia policeman?
Would the fear of copping a bash have stopped you, or would your inborn sense of civic duty and support of what the boys in blue really mean to us have spurred you to act in his defence?
The jury's out, I suspect, although I hope the police can regain and retain our total respect.
Even more, I hope they want to.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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