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Heather Roy's Diary - 13 June 2008

Friday, 13 June, 2008

Un-common Sense & Cellphones

Ah yes, it's election year - time for those political Parties accused of being soft on crime to reel out their 'look tough' Law & Order policies.

This week's attempt is Labour's ban on the use of handheld cellphones while driving - an unnecessary new law designed to win votes from those who, probably according to Labour's polling, believe that cellphone use while driving is a huge issue that must be addressed.

Don't get me wrong: you'd have to be mad to think you can operate a vehicle soundly while texting or dialling. Generally speaking, anything that distracts a driver is bad - using cellphones, changing CDs, turning around to sort the kids or reaching into the glove box.

People have been killed as a result of this sort of careless driving. But law is already in place for the police to act; careless driving can - and should - be targeted, and police currently have the authority to act in these instances.

This isn't about addressing risk. It's about using a populist policy to give the appearance of action and making voters think the issue is being taken seriously. This is a practice Labour is renowned for - think Dog Micro-shipping, or the Anti-Smacking Bill.

Police Minister Annette King and Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven have had a field day this week. Statistics have been wheeled out, and legislation has been promised to fix a problem that police already have to the power to address.

Ms King should instead be helping police use the powers they have. As it is, the police lack a secure radio frequency through which to communicate. As a result, criminals are able to tune into this frequency and evade any attempts police might make to stop them.

The Minister has failed for years in her promise to provide police with a secure channel, and officers have resorted to communicating via cellphone. Will this ban see police forced to pull over in the midst of a chase to phone colleagues further up the road, or to use their handheld RT devices? And will truckers and taxi drivers have to pull over to use their devices?

Or will Ms King do what she did with the Electoral Finance Act and the Anti-Smacking law - force more law on already law-abiding Kiwis and then declare that the law of commonsense will prevail? It seems that commonsense really is in short supply these days.

The Shooting Of Navtej Singh

The brutal shooting of liquor store owner Navtej Singh this week has highlighted the enormous risks that small shopkeepers take in running their businesses, particularly outside of normal working hours. It seems physical courage will soon sit alongside financial acumen as a pre-requisite to running a small round-the-clock business.

Mr Singh's death has resulted in a wave of criticism. Police were delayed in attending the incident - with media reports claiming their GPS system sent them to the wrong address. They then had to secure the scene before ambulance officers could enter. As such, Mr Singh went for some time without being treated and did not arrive at hospital within the 'golden hour' - the period during which most victims of severe traumatic injury can be saved.

Following Mr Singh's death, some members of the local community have criticised police for their tardiness. Meanwhile, the Manurewa Council is considering reducing the number of liquor licences in the area on the reasoning that liquor outlets attract robbers.

So does that mean that, because he chose to run a liquor store, Mr Singh is to blame for his own death? Of course not: if the robbers hadn't selected his store they would have chosen another - liquor store, dairy, superette ... anything that would have yielded some cash.

Police are also not to blame for Mr Singh's death. That lies with those who robbed him and pulled the trigger. It was they who decided a small amount of booze and cash was worth killing for.

That said, there ARE issues that need to be addressed - such as the speed of the response to violent crimes. I'm sure police followed procedure painstakingly. But delays in them arriving, and then holding back ambulance officers while securing the scene, meant Mr Singh lay bleeding for some time - while members of the public entered the shop saying the robbers had long gone.

This is a sign that police are increasingly isolated from the values of the community they serve - a very unnerving development that has seen communities and the wider public lose confidence and become distrustful of the police.

For many reasons, the police are no longer responsive to community requirements and concerns. The days of community policing are gone. Rather than being available to attend burglaries - or arrive promptly at the scene of an armed robbery and shooting - police have a hefty focus on gathering extra revenue through such means as issuing speed tickets.

With the loss of public confidence in police has come the loss of public support. Police now operate as an elite force - isolated from, and no longer in tune with, the community. Police need to be brought back into the community so that they work WITH - and as part of - the communities they are supposed to serve. Community policing should be the basis on which all other services are built.

Lest We Forget - the Formation of the Modern-Day Police Force

June 19 1829: the Metropolitan Police Act came into effect, forming a new centralised Police force for London. Home Secretary - later Prime Minister - Sir Robert Peel saw the importance of such a force to control the city's escalating crime and disorder. The force began patrolling an area within an 11km radius of Charing Cross in September 1829. The 'Met' gradually expanded from an initial 1,000 officers in 1829 to over 31,000 officers today. Modern policing in the English-speaking world - including New Zealand - is modelled on this. Sir Robert Peel had this to say approximately 200 years ago:

"Police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence."


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