Christchurch cops are refusing to admit they've completely stuffed up their treatment of an autistic man.
There are one or two people in the Christchurch police who should be required by someone of sense to take a long hard look at themselves.
The case of the young Asperger's fellow is a disgrace to policing. I watched Janet McIntyre's report on Arie Smith-Voorkamp's predicament in disbelief last Sunday night on TV One. I've known McIntyre professionally for a long time and I know the integrity she brings to all the work she does. I know she is a safe pair of hands.
I know she will have examined all the angles, that she will have looked at the story from every which way and what she showed us was a clear case of police bloody-mindedness, police vindictiveness, police pettiness and probably a bit of police brutality thrown in as well.
With everything that's happened to Christchurch and with all that has to be done in Christchurch, the police, in the form of one Christchurch Central Police Area Commander, Inspector Derek Erasmus, seem obsessed by the prosecution - or persecution - of one single man with Asperger's syndrome, a condition which has him unable to resist taking old electrical equipment. He admits this. He said the desire to have old electrical switches simply takes over his brain.
So on the night of the February quake, with the city in chaos, everyone half terrified, Arie and his partner wandered round the corner from where Arie lives. There inside a building - abandoned it seems even before the earthquake - Arie saw a light switch. When he got close he saw that the switch wasn't up to standard. It was too new. Arie is a true collector and he likes old stuff and he's particular about it.
Suddenly above him he saw two old lightbulbs. He'd take them home and clean them up and friends would admire them on his mantelpiece. Yes, Arie is unusual. I'm wired differently, he told McIntyre with great dignity, expressing the injustice he feels he's endured at the hands of the police, "but I'm pretty smart".
As he reached for one of the bulbs that night in that dangerous building all hell broke loose. He says he got an elbow in the side of the head. Police say claims he was assaulted by the police are "completely incorrect". Yeah, right.
The next day the police allowed the media to film Arie sitting in the Christchurch watchhouse. He was described as "the face of looting" and we all noted that he'd been given a thumping and there were probably many of us who thought he deserved it. After that his family told the police Arie had Asperger's and had an obsession with things electrical.
What in God's name is wrong with those cops in Christchurch? They kept Arie in jail for 11 days. They opposed bail. They have consistently refused diversion. It's pathetic. And it's cruel.
Did no one back at the station when they brought him in notice he was different? Do the words Asperger's and autism mean nothing to them? Are they ignorant? Could they not see from how he looks, from his honesty, from the way he talks that he was different and might be a special case? After all, he was in his own neighbourhood in an already abandoned building trying to pinch an old lightbulb. He wasn't on the other side of town loading up a van with television sets, was he?
At his home he showed McIntyre his collection of antique switches. He loves these things. He draws electrical circuits on paper. My heart went out to him.
Then the piece de resistance. McIntyre took him round to the building's owners whom, it turns out, the police had never contacted to advise them that their building was the centre of all of this. They had no idea. Arie apologised to them for trying to pinch a lightbulb. Well, said Mr and Mrs Matsis, there was no way they would have pressed charges about the removal of an old lightbulb. With houses falling down, said Mrs Matsis, who cared about a lightbulb?
Arie introduced himself and the kindly Mr and Mrs Matsis saw straightaway that Arie was unusual and offered to help in whatever way they could.
By the time the television programme went to air last Sunday night, the Christchurch cops have done two things. They've asked TVNZ not to broadcast the Smith-Voorkamp story, presumably because they know they're going to look stupid.
And against the background of the carnage of Christchurch the Christchurch Central Police Area Commander, Inspector Derek Erasmus, the lord high poobah himself, has found the time to visit Mr and Mrs Matsis and wouldn't you know it, Mr and Mrs Matsis are now happy for the matter to go to court though they hope Arie clears his name.
What's more, announces this Erasmus, Sunday is itself now the subject of a criminal investigation by police. Which is a joke. A big fat joke.
This was never about justice. It was always about the absurd and unbelievable police attitude to an autistic young man with an inability to resist taking an old lightbulb. Now, it is about police ego, the police gang mentality and that insufferable characteristic police sometimes display of being convinced of their own righteousness. And it is about the police refusal to admit they've cocked this up completely.
I was appalled by McIntyre's item and what's befallen Arie Smith-Voorkamp. With all there is to do in Christchurch, the police are dedicating valuable resources to an unusual young fellow, a dear boy in fact, who wanted an old lightbulb, a vulnerable young man whom they threw in the can with the filth of the city for 11 days and who is now terrified of going out and very frightened of going to jail. I hope to God Arie gets a good judge who'll tell Detective Inspector Erasmus where to get off.
This is straight-out police bullying. This is not what we want our police to do. This is not the kind of policing we want to see in New Zealand.
What's really disturbing is that it appears Erasmus has referred the matter all the way to the top in Wellington and Wellington has told him to dig his heels in. It might be time for the new commissioner to demonstrate some common sense.