Sideswipe

A daily look at life's oddities by Ana Samways

Sideswipe: Sep 20: A quick guide to police harassment

Police in Dunedin pictured 'harassing' students.
Police in Dunedin pictured 'harassing' students.

A North Island police station received this question through the feedback section of a website: "How it is possible for police officers to continually harass people and get away with it?"

A sergeant replied with this ...

"First of all, let me tell you ... it's not easy. In the Palmerston North and rural area we average one cop for every 505 people. Only about 60 per cent of those cops are on general duty where we do most of our harassing. The rest are in non-harassing units that do not allow them contact with the day-to-day innocents.

"At any given moment, only one-fifth of the 60 per cent of general patrols are on duty and available for harassing people while the rest are off duty. So, roughly, one cop is responsible for harassing about 6000 residents. When you toss in the commercial business and tourist locations that attract people from other areas, a single cop is responsible for harassing 15,000 or more people a day.

"We also utilise some tools to help us narrow down those people we can realistically harass ...

Clarification: The guide to police harassment, spotted on the New Zealand Police Association website, was unfortunately not written by a Palmerton North sergeant. According to the National Business Review it was very similar to a post credited to a Chula Vista, California police officer, answering the same question. Seems the sergeant re-purposed the humour for a local crowd.

1. Phone: People will call us up and cause us to focus on a person for special harassment. "My neighbour is beating his wife" is a code phrase used often. This means we'll come out and give somebody some special harassment.

2. Cars: We have special cops assigned to harass people who drive. It's lots of fun when you pick people out of traffic for nothing more obvious than running a red light. Sometimes you get to really heap the harassment on when you find they have drugs in the car, they are drunk, or have an outstanding warrant on file.

3. Laws: When we don't have a phone or cars, and have nothing better to do, there are actually books that give us ideas for reasons to harass folks. They are called "statutes". These include the Crimes Act, Summary Offences Act, Land Transport Act and a whole bunch of others ... They spell out all sorts of things you can use to really mess with people. After you read the law, you can just drive around for a while until you find someone violating one of these listed offences and harass them.

"It is a really cool system that we have set up, and it works pretty well. We seem to have a never-ending supply of folks to harass. And we get away with it. Why? Because for the good citizens who pay the tab we try to keep the streets safe ... . they pay us to 'harass' some people.

"Next time you are in Palmerston North, give me the old 'single finger wave'. That's another one of those codes. It means, 'you can harass me'. It's one of our favourites."

UPDATE: Remember folks, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't.

My sincere apologies.

- NZ Herald

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