Wanaka police believe they may be the first police station in the country to allow underage drinking offenders to write an essay about what alcohol does to the teenage brain rather than pay a hefty fine.

Senior Sergeant Allan Grindell, of Wanaka, said over the New Year period Wanaka, more than any other area in the central lakes district, has particular issues with young people coming into the centre of the town and drinking alcohol in the liquor ban area, getting into fights or harming themselves.

He said in previous years police used the liquor ban as an early intervention tool, warned the young person, moved them along and did not issue a lot of offence notices, but it had made no difference.

''In fact, it was getting worse.''


This year he said police decided to take firmer action by issuing alcohol infringement offences, with fines ranging from $200 to $250. Those under 17 would be given the option of writing an essay ''as a lot of them couldn't pay those fines''.

He said the ''alternative resolution to holding people accountable for their actions'' began on December 28 and about 10 underage drinkers issued with an alcohol infringement offence have chosen to write an essay.

He said they had to go to the Wanaka police station, read scientific literature about the the dangers of binge-drinking and alcohol on teenage brains and write an essay about it.

''If they did that they would be issued with a warning and allowed to go on their merry way.''

Grindell said the police website had had positive feedback from parents ''thanking us for giving their teenagers the positive experience they have had with the police and hopefully the learning they have had''.

He said almost all the offenders had come from cities and towns north of Wanaka in the South Island and had ranged in age from 14 to 16.

The initiative would end this week.

Grindell said underage drinking was not confined to Wanaka.

''It is a New Zealand issue but it is a bigger issue in Wanaka than anywhere else in the Central Otago area.''