Crackdown takes drink-drive fight into offenders' homes

By Jamie Morton

Police are tackling high-risk drink-drivers in their own homes and workplaces in a get-tough operation.

Dubbed Operation De-Clutch, the crackdown is targeting a small list of disqualified drink-drivers who have offended at least three times.

Police have visited some of the offenders at their homes, without any complaints.

Police Minister Judith Collins last night told the Herald she supported the force actively targeting the "very worst, hardcore" repeat drink-drivers.

The Police Association said it would back the hardline tactics being adopted throughout New Zealand if they prove effective.

But human rights advocates have raised fears over the potential for harassment and "over-zealous" policing.

The new scheme is being trialled in the Bay of Plenty, one of New Zealand's battleground regions for drink-driving.

The region's acting district road policing manager, Senior Sergeant Stuart Nightingale, described the approach as "astute" and "smart".

The Bay of Plenty is the second-worst area for drink-driver prosecutions in New Zealand, behind Counties-Manukau, with 3576 drink-driving charges laid last year.

Of these, 782 were third or subsequent offences.

"We are able to obtain details on who are the worst drink-drivers in the district," Mr Nightingale said.

"We are only talking about a narrow slice of all drink-drivers - the ones who have been convicted of a third or subsequent offence or who have been caught more than once in one year. This is a very direct, in-their-face approach. We can't afford to be soft and fluffy about this.

"The fact that police are making a point of visiting them, getting to know them, where they drink and where they work suddenly makes it aware to them that drink-driving isn't acceptable.

"They might think, 'Maybe I need to change my ways because the police are coming to my house now'."

Police Association vice-president Luke Shadbolt supported the move.

"If it's something that is successful, it might well be replicated around the country, and we would be more than happy to support any initiatives like that," he said.

Mr Shadbolt, a senior sergeant in Napier, said Hawkes Bay police had adopted similar tactics with sex offenders released into the community.

"It's all about letting them know police in the community are keeping an eye on them. We are talking about a very small per cent of people being caught for drink-driving.

"The vast majority get caught and learn their lesson, but there is a hard core of drink-drivers that thumb their noses at us and need to be targeted.

"They are the worst of the worst and deserve our attention."

Asked whether the approach threatened human rights, Mr Nightingale said the risk posed by repeat drink-drivers meant their rights were "overwritten" by the rights of the public.

"It's not about harassment and upsetting people. It's being very direct with them face to face and making sure they know they are a risk to other people."

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar applauded the hardline approach.

"I think it's a return to basic values of shaming the offender, and it's great to see."

He said human rights should not be for the offender, but for other members of the public "who should be able to drive on the road and live in this country safely".

But Human Rights Foundation chairman Tim McBride, author of the New Zealand Handbook of Civil Liberties, believed police could be overstepping their powers by entering properties without proper cause.

"Repeat drink-driving is a serious issue and one that needs to be tackled, and I'm not about to defend people who drink and drive, but on the other hand I'm concerned about harassment of people and where it involves going on to private property.

"It sounds like it's got the potential to be overzealous, and what they are doing needs to be justified and monitored."

- NZ Herald

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