Preloading party-goers and home drinkers are causing the lion's share of trouble for police, according to data released under the Official Information Act.

Alco-link data - a survey of where offenders had their last drink before being arrested - from the past three years shows the majority of those drinking before arrest had their last drink at home.

Despite this, bar owners felt police efforts were targeted at them rather than supermarket chains, where the majority of alcohol was sold.

Dunedin alcohol harm prevention officer Sergeant Ian Paulin said police had to take a pragmatic approach to dealing with the harm caused by alcohol and, while officers could not police alcohol consumption in the home, they could impact on issues in bars.


The data revealed that of those who admitted consuming alcohol before arrest during the past three years, 51% had their last drink at home, while 18% had it in public and 31% had their last drink in a licensed premises.

Sgt Paulin said police had advocated for measures to address the issue of preloading - drinking at home before leaving for bars and clubs later in the night - in the introduction of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act and Dunedin's local alcohol policy (Lap) created under the Act.

However, neither had stuck, with recommended measures removed from the Act before it was passed and Dunedin's Lap left in limbo after supermarkets appealed parts of it and the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority agreed some aspects were "unreasonable", rendering the policy unenforceable.

"The price differential between off-licence and on-licence drives the preloading, which is the majority of 'consumed at private residence' last place of drink," Sgt Paulin said.

"It is basic economics that minimum pricing of alcohol could address."

Prof Jennie Connor, of the University of Otago's department of preventive and social medicine, said the arrests and disorder resulting from alcohol consumption were only a "tiny minority of alcohol-based harm".

"More availability of cheap alcohol in the community is going to do harm wherever you drink it," she said.

"It's far too cheap, too easily available, too normalised.

"People drink far too much - far too many are getting hurt or dying.

"Alcohol has never been so cheap. It's never been so heavily promoted. It's never been promoted to young people in such comprehensive and sophisticated ways."

She agreed with Sgt Paulin that the best way to tackle the harms caused by alcohol consumption was through more stringent regulation.

"Increase the price, restrict the number of places you can buy alcohol and stop the alcohol companies promoting these products."

Economics would control the hospitality industry somewhat, as had been witnessed by the closure of bars in Dunedin's student quarter, Prof Connor she said.

Players in Dunedin's hospitality industry felt police were making an already difficult industry harder.

"It's easier to go after an on-licence and get a conviction than it is to charge someone on the street," Alley Cantina owner Mike Bankier said.

"I used to have the nightclub and I don't operate it now because I was picking up more bottles outside the nightclub than I was selling on the inside.

"I just don't understand where they [police] are coming from. It doesn't make sense. There's more drinking on the streets and we can't control what's going on in the streets.

He pointed to the Hyde St party as an example of public intoxication which took place with the consent of police and other authorities.

"It's deplorable how they can stand around on a public street and watch people get drunk," he said.

"They are wanting bars to be concentration camps.

"They say we have to have host responsibility, but the word host has gone out of the hospitality industry now. We are more like prison guards."

Terrace Bar owner John Macdonald also felt police were taking a heavy-handed approach to policing bars compared with drinking that was taking place elsewhere.

"We are the easy and soft target for policing because it's very easy for them to walk into a premises and demand complete and absolute behaviour in guidance with the Sale [and Supply] of Alcohol Act," he said.

"But there are a huge number of incidents outside licensed premises.

"We would often have people too drunk to be served waiting for taxis to get home sitting at our tables and chairs and we would be told by police they were deemed to be our responsibility even if we hadn't served them and that would seem to me to be unfair."

He was also opposed to events such as the Hyde St party.

"They are still allowing an event to take place where gross intoxication is the norm and they are standing there and basically supporting it," he said.

"That supply can't take place in bars.

"If these people take off down to the bars we would all be charged with breaches of the Liquor Act."

Both agreed greater regulation of off-licence alcohol supply was required to address the issues.

Police would continue to target off-licence premises as well as bars and clubs, Sgt Paulin said.

"Licensed premises, both on-licence and off-licence, must comply with the law and police together with partner agencies will work to ensure compliance," he said.

"When breaches are detected, premises will be held responsible.

"We cannot control how people consume alcohol in their homes, but we can exercise some controls in both public places and licensed premises. It is a matter of doing what we can, when we can, where we can."