Editorial: Increase booze age to reduce attacks

By Dylan Thorne

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A series of attacks on police this summer has prompted a warning from Justice Minister Judith Collins that such crimes usually result in heavy penalties when the offenders appear in court.

The problem is the people who carry out these types of attacks are unconcerned about any sentence the courts hand down.

In the latest attack, a group of young partygoers took turns to kick, punch and beat a police officer with a baseball bat while he lay unconscious on the ground.

The assault, by a group who took on a "pack mentality" in Dargaville, was horrific, One of the party-goers picked up a police stun-gun during the melee and pointed it at the policemen.

Apparently the scene exploded after a 9-year-old child was accidently hit by pepper spray.

The attacks have sparked debate about whether police should be armed but there is another aspect of this issue that needs to be addressed.

Area commander Inspector Tracy Phillips hit the nail on the head when she said the brutal assault was aggravated by fact the crowd was intoxicated and descended into a "pack mentality".

From what I have read, one common feature of many of these attacks is that the perpetrators are drunk. If the people at the party had been sober and thinking rationally it is unlikely such a brutal assault would have taken place. Unfortunately, the festive season is a time of excess and emergency services have to to deal with the consequences.

As we reported yesterday, Tauranga Hospital is bracing for an onslaught of drunk and injured patients this silly season, with annual leave restrictions on staff and extras called in to assist.

Between 130 and 180 patients a day are expected through the emergency department (ED) doors over the festive season - an increase of 20 to 60 people a day compared with the rest of the year. Much of that is due to alcohol-related injuries.

No doubt some of the chaos we are seeing now could have been avoided if politicians had voted to raise the drinking age to 20 earlier this year. It was an opportunity lost and we will continue to deal with the mayhem as a result.

The politicians in favour of keeping the drinking at 18 spoke about rights - that if we deem 18 and 19-year-olds old enough to live away from home, go to work, university, take out a loan, vote and drive, then surely they were old enough to manage their drinking habits.

This, as this paper has pointed out before, appears to be a valid point but it is not uncommon to witness teenagers in a state a long way from responsible and a short way to unconscious on any given Saturday night.

No doubt if politicians spent some time in the ED, with the ambulance service or on the beat with police this festive season they might see enough carnage to change their stance on this issue.

Binge drinking is a major issue and while raising the drinking age might not fix the problem entirely, it would help.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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