by Holly Walker
For some reason, when you become an MP, people think you are important. You suddenly get access to a whole lot of things that the general public don’t have – you can visit schools, factories, and businesses; you get to go on study attachments to certain companies (as I did recently with Radio New Zealand); I haven’t tested this theory yet, but supposedly you can show up to any prison at any time and demand to be shown around; you can ask to spend a night observing the carnage in the A&E department of your local hospital (if you have the stomach for it). It still weirds me out that I can suddenly demand all this time and attention that other people can’t, but it is incredibly insightful and interesting, so as long as I’m here, I’ve resolved to make the most of it.
Which is how I found myself on patrol with the Lower Hutt Police last Saturday night, searching the streets of Naenae for two suspects carrying a machete, with a loaded Glock 17 pistol on the hip of the officer in the drivers’ seat.
“Should I stay in the car when we find them?” I quavered from the back seat.
“Just play it by ear,” said my driver. “It could be a great learning experience.”
I held my breath.
Earlier in the night, I had – amazingly, considering I committed the cardinal sin of failing to bring donuts – been graciously welcomed and shown around by the Shift Commander and his team at the station. I saw the banks of screens showing live CCTV camera footage from around the city. I got a tour of the cells – not somewhere I recommend spending any time if you can possibly avoid it. I was shown the gun safe, containing tasers, pistols, and rifles. I got to hold the guns, and wondered whether I should have declined. Then I headed out in a patrol car with two friendly officers, one very experienced, one two months out of Police College.
It was a quiet night, so I’m told. We attended to a young man who had been injured in a fight out the back of a panel beaters’ shop in Wainuiomata (he called us, though it transpires that he “may” have kicked things off by smashing a bottle over the back of his host’s head). He was drunk, and so were they. We attended a domestic call out in Taita after a shouting match between ex-partners, one of whom wouldn’t go home; we gave her a ride. Both were in their late 50s and extremely intoxicated. We helped the community patrol check the premises of a local bowling club that had been found with a door open: the verdict, not robbed, but left open by drunk bar staff/members.
Back at the station several very drunk people were brought in for disorderly behaviour, processed, and left to sober up in the cells.
Every single call or case was alcohol-related.
And then there were those guys with the machete.
I had a good chat with the Shift Commander before I left about Police policy and the reality for frontline staff. They feel like there are fewer than ever. They have a major focus on prevention, but there’s only so much they can do.
The Greens were very opposed to the introduction of tasers and increased access to firearms for frontline police, out of concerns about both civil liberties and safety. I still have these concerns. And yet.
We didn’t find the men with the machete. We pulled over and my driver disarmed his gun and put it back in the safe.
I let out my breath.