du Fresne: Police burned off goodwill with their zero tolerance scam

Karl du Fresne thinks the Police have well over stepped the mark with their zero tolerance scam run these past holidays.

In fact he says it failed.

Human nature is a perverse thing. It consistently thwarts all attempts to coerce us into behaving the way bureaucrats, politicians and assorted control freaks think we should.

Take the road toll. Since early December New Zealanders have been subjected to a ceaseless barrage of police propaganda about the futility of trying to defy speed and alcohol limits.

Stern-looking police officers have been in our faces almost daily, warning that zero tolerance would be shown to lawbreakers. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found their lecturing increasingly tiresome and patronising.

Of course the police can claim the best possible justification for all this finger-wagging: it’s about saving lives. But what was the result? The road toll for the holiday period was more than double those of the previous two years. For the full year, the toll was up by 44 on the record low of 2013.

The figures suggest that people crash for all manner of reasons, and that the emphasis on speed and alcohol is therefore simplistic. The police focus on speed and booze because these are easy targets, and when the road toll comes down they can take the credit.

In the ideal world envisaged by ever-hopeful bureaucrats, wayward citizens can be managed much as sheep are controlled by heading dogs. But people will never be harangued into driving safely; human nature is just too contrary.

Besides, police crackdowns are only one factor in achieving a lower road toll.

Improved road design, safer cars, better-equipped emergency services and more immediate medical attention all contribute too. It would be interesting to know, for example, how many lives have been saved because of the use of helicopters to get victims promptly to hospital.

Given that their heavy-handed propaganda campaign appears to have had minimal effect, I wonder if the police will now be humble enough to sit down and review their tactics.

I won;t hold my breath waiting.

But it wasn’t just the speed focus it is also the enforcement of the new alcohol limit.

They might also ponder the potential damage done to their public image by the zeal with which they immediately began enforcing the new alcohol limits.

It must have been like shooting fish in a barrel as they set up checkpoints to catch otherwise law-abiding citizens who had inadvertently consumed one glass of sauvignon blanc too many.

It was a formidable display of police power, but how many lives did it save? And how many of the apprehended drivers were left feeling humiliated and angry at being made to feel like criminals for unwittingly doing something that was legal only days before, and that probably posed no danger to anyone?

Police will say, of course, that they were merely enforcing the law. But there is a point at which the benefits of aggressive law enforcement have to be weighed against potential negative consequences, such as public resentment. I’m not sure our police bosses have done this equation.

Sir Robert Peel, the 19th century British politician who established the police force on which ours is modelled, established the principle that police must operate with the consent of the people they serve. Put another way, they can’t risk burning off public goodwill.

Judging by public reaction to the zero tolerance campaign, as expressed in forums such as letters to the editor, talkback shows and online news sites, that’s exactly what is now happening.

Public goodwill has been burned off.

The Police focus on zero tolerance for the speed limit was the worst thinking seen in many a year for the Police. They forced drivers into a panic, many drove well below the speed limit, long tails ensued as people became too afraid to pass and none of it mattered at all as the road toll was more than double the previous year, and more than the last two years combined.

Personally I don’t care about the drink drive limits, I don;t drink so it matters not a bit to me. I actually wonder why we actually don’t have a zero limit for alcohol.

If the Police are consistent with their calls for zero tolerance then why aren’t they lobbying for zero alcohol?

The Police unfortunately were captured by their own spin and a mistaken belief that only their enforcement actions were lowering the road toll, when improved car design, improved roads and better emergency services have probably all contributed much, much more to road safety than heaps of speed cameras, sneaky plain clothes cop cars and sitting at the end of passing lanes revenue gathering.


– The Dominion Post


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  • Geordie

    How about zero tolerance for everything else that is against the law? Or useless parents that don’t send their kids to school, or spend their limited income on ciggys and booze, to me that is far more criminal and does greater long term damage than going a couple of Kms over the speed limit.

    • GenericUsername101

      How about zero tolerance for police officers who kill people during a road chase, like the toddler today?

  • Mad Captain

    Yes, an epic fail. I have no time for drinking and driving, for some people even one glass of wine can have serious effects so I don’t disagree with the new lower limit. But all those wasted resources targeting speeders in a fraction of the margin of error? Sod off.

    • Nigel_F

      I disagree with any limit, some people one glass affects them, some people fine with a dozen, you need to know your own body. Checkpoints checking everybody against an arbitrary limit are wrong, pull over people driving badly and make them do some simple coordination tests.

      • ex-JAFA

        Different people are certainly affected differently by the same amount of alcohol. There are many factors which have an influence, even on the same person under different circumstances. But I think an empirical limit is necessary for prosecution, otherwise it’s subjective and too easily challenged, wasting police and court time.

        • GenericUsername101

          I recall a TV program at the start of the whole debate about testing breath alcohol. It involved a range of people, including men, women, and an all- black or two. It showed that the all-blacks were better drivers well over the alcohol limit, than many of the drivers had been with zero alcohol. The show, sponsored by the police, stated that this proved that they were correct in prosecuting based on breath alcohol. What it actually demonstrated, was that breath alcohol is irrelevant. The old fashioned method, of testing whether a person can walk in a straight line, and other co-ordination tasks, is still vastly more accurate, as it tests the ability of the particular individual to drive, at the time. The current, and “more accurate sounding” method, is actually irrelevant to a persons ability to drive, but it make enforcement and revenue collection oh so easy.

  • colin herbertson

    spot on Karl, there’s 2 types of people who become police, those who want to catch bad guys and the control freaks who like bossing people around. The latter tend to be the ones who rise to the top and it shows with policy like this,

  • Pluto

    It’s well known that the Police have quotas to fill.
    To me this seriously damages their credibility, are they doing this to save us, or fill their books? Seems to me this is why we have such things as “morning after” breathalyser

  • Betty Swallocks

    Zero tolerance for parents/partners who murder/maim/beat their kids would be nice too. Perhaps if we reduced the potential penalties for this and replaced it with a system of instant fines and demerit points in future? I know it isn’t going to stop ferals destroying their young, but the current penalties are ineffective. At least this way it would generate a bit of revenue and it would get more Police off the roads and away from harassing law-abiding motorists.

  • JustanObserver

    This is a No-Win argument on both sides of the fence.
    We all want a lower road toll, but we all want our freedom
    I would much prefer that the Police actually fought what they can win, and do a damn good job of it.
    We already have laws for speeding & drink/drug-driving, how about prosecute those falling foul of those laws, in the intent they were written for, properly.
    My real gripe is that there are un-licenced & un-registered/warranted vehicles on the road.
    When are we going to make Insurance a MANDATORY part of re-licencing, and then have all of these Static Cash-Registers on poles, masquerading as ‘Road-Safety’ enforcement, as well as Red-Light Cameras identify up the un-registered/warranted vehicles.
    I would then be much happier for the ‘Stern-Faced’ Policemen having Zero Tolerance, and confiscate those vehicles, sell them or crush them I don’t care.
    No Licence, No Rego/Warrant, No excuse ….
    Get off my road.

    • twr

      The accident rate caused by faulty vehicles is now so close to zero that it’s impossible to measure, and the payment of an annual tax or multiple annual taxes for permission to drive on the roads will make no difference to the accident stats. Having all your paperwork in order for the bureaucrats is no substitute for taking personal responsibility for what you are doing behind the wheel and maintaining maximum concentration at all times.

      • JustanObserver

        NZ has ‘Personal Responsibility Poverty’.
        I agree with what you are saying regarding PR, however if this is put aside (for the moment), could I take that you are less concerned with IF a person has a licence, IF they have lost one for previous road law-breaking, maybe they have never learned and sat one ?
        And as for faulty vehicles causing the accidents, I took the ignition rotor out of my son’s car, because he had let the warrant lapse by 2 weeks. It clearly wouldn’t get a warrant with the bald-as rear tyres (from a weekend at the ‘Skid-Pad’ so he said), and he couldn’t afford new tyres. So when he asked for help to get his car fixed up, I said sure. I disabled his car so he could save petrol money to buy tyres.
        What I am saying, is un-registered/warranted cars have no-right being on our roads, and if they aren’t there, they can’t cause harm can they.

        • twr

          So you didn’t take the rotor out before the warrant expired, even though the tyres were presumably bald then as well? This kind of makes my point and the points that have been made on this site for the last few days. It’s not about safety – it’s about the paperwork. Having the WOF valid the day before it expired doesn’t make the bald tyres safe any more than doing 101kmh makes a driver dangerous. There are plenty of poor quality Chinese tyres for example that would have less grip than unwarrantable good ones, but nobody cares – it’s all about following the letter of the rules. The rego matters even less. It does nothing apart from collect a fee to allow you to go about your business, and for those of us with cars as a hobby, you pay over and over for nothing. They seem proud that “warrants are getting tougher”, and include standards that are nothing to do with safety. If you re-register a car that has previously been on NZ roads and then lapsed, you have to jump through inane hoops like making sure the windows have the right stamp on them or you are failed, even though it was acceptable before the lapse. It’s all about control, with the safety veneer as an excuse.

    • ex-JAFA

      An insurance policy has nothing whatsoever to do with a vehicle’s suitability for the road or a driver’s suitability to operate it. All it does is pass the cost of repairing/replacing your own or someone else’s vehicle on to a commercial organisation – further reducing personal responsibility. Why bother driving carefully if you’re not financially liable for the carnage you may cause?

      • JustanObserver

        My apologies, I refer to 3rd Party Insurance which should be mandatory.
        To cover the carnage you may choose to cause to someone else.

        • ex-JAFA

          My point still stands: if you’re not liable for the cost of repairs to the car you hit, where’s the incentive to avoid them? In any case, many policies are void if the policyholder has done something stupid, so the nett effect is as if there was no insurance in the first place – the at-fault driver must pay.

          • JustanObserver

            When I was in WA, 3rd Party Insurance was part of the annual relicensing.
            If you were in an accident, and at fault, the other parties were covered and repaired so they could get back on with life.
            The Insurance company then came after you for costs …
            The majority of drivers were very conscious about having an expired registration as that meant no insurance, which meant they could be sued.

          • mommadog

            Same as when I lived and drove in the USA. Mandatory insurance required and it went both ways. You had to prove insurance coverage to register your car and if no warrant or registration and something happens then absolutely no insurance cover. If pulled over for any reason the cops always asked to see proof of insurance as well as your drivers license. Insurance policies come with a little card that you carry in your glove box with insurance details. The expiry date being the annual date renewal is due on your insurance policy.

    • Sooty

      Every vehicle driving on the road with a light out, should be pulled over.

  • john Doe

    We can bang on about zero tolerance, speed and alcohol adnausium. The bottom line is that stupidity is the cause of most fatalities. Stupid people drink and drive, stupid people speed when it is not safe to do so, stupid people drive beyond thier capabilities etc. Deal to these stupid people and the roads will be a safer place.

  • 1080 Napalm

    Yesterday I completed a drive from Taranaki to Northland. The first and only Police I saw were in speed traps along the Northern Motorway. Not the dodgy Awakino Gorge, not the historical black spot of the Ruakaka Straights, but tucked into the side of probably the safest road in NZ.

    • Aucky

      Ditto. I have been semi-commuting from Leigh to Auckland for the last two weeks. The Northern motorway is crawling with cops but they are nowhere else to be seen.

    • Dumrse

      It’s become rather obvious that patrol zones are aligned to revenue streams. The chance of a good catch thru the Awakino or along the Ruakaka are less than a good catch on the motorway. It’s not about saving lives, it’s about generating revenue. Muppets, absolute muppets and, they think we buy their bovine excretement.

      • mommadog

        Out of interest I wonder how much say the on the beat cop gets about where to sit/patrol for the day. Are they told where they have to hang out each day or do they gravitate to the speed trap areas themselves because of the need to fill quotas (to obtain the revenue) and keep themselves out of trouble with the bosses for not reaching their quota? It must be frustrating for some of the brighter cops to have to deal with this quota / revenue stuff – the ones that see it for what it is. Its very unlikely to be what they signed up for.

        • Dumrse

          The urban myth here is that it’s quota driven and the individuals have the freedom to visit their favourite place and or stretch of highway to fill the coffers. This could explain why we saw three cars in a 2km stretch, all heading north looking for 1KPH over speed killers.

          • Wahbonnah

            There is no urban myth on quotas. they have quotas to meet Dumrse.

    • Michael_l_c

      The number of times I have seen the same thing. The new part of the northern motorway up to the tunnel, speed cameras. It is one of the safest roads in the country. How many fatals have there been there compared to so many dodgy rural roads?

  • Damon Mudgway

    Me thinks the boys and girls in blue need to employ a professional PR company.

    • They should start by clearing out the top desks!

  • corporate refugee

    The accident statistics for the speeding clampdown period have been published, will the speeding fine income statistics also be published?

    • Ashley

      I would be interested to see a road toll to revenue ratio.

  • Backdoor

    And what would have happened if the Police did not have the clampdown on speed? We can only assume that the road toll would not have been higher. But is there any evidence to support that assumption?

    There will always be a differing of opinion about what steps need to be taken to ensure safety of citizens. Even when it comes to terrorism, the Green Party would rather risk harm than risk privacy.

    • colin herbertson

      I don’t think it would have made much difference,as others have pointed out below it’s more about revenue raising.I suspect the road toll has more to do with low fuel prices putting more traffic on the road, and that many of our roads belong in the 1950s and are unsuitable for modern cars,How many deaths have resulted from head ons?,we must be the only developed country that has traffic hurtling toward each other at combined speeds of 200kph seperated by nothing more than a painted line down the middle of the road.

      • GenericUsername101

        I have seen a graph plotting the fuel price alongside the road toll over the last 50 years. The two are almost exactly the same.

  • KGB

    I now live on State Highway 1 between Te Hana and Mangawhai, it has been interesting to observe holiday traffic for the 1st time these holidays. The road between Warkforth & Wellsford is a nightmare. The 3 traffic lights on the main highway at Warkworth are responsible for ‘all’ the congestion. Traffic builds up from the tunnel to north of the Mangawhai turn-off, and SH1 becomes a parking lot. Neighbours tells us that the Lions Club park at the local rest area and hand out free water bottles.
    For these who oppose the holiday highway, (wussell), come for a drive. Cops can’t issue tickets on this stretch of road during the xmas break because traffic ‘flows’ are near stand-still. The drunkest driver could hardly kill themselves, let alone an innocent at the speed of traffic.
    I know this isn’t the only ‘hot-spot’ in NZ, but these areas must be fixed to cure frustration. Frustration kills.

  • While I agree with the historic precedent, why do modern police care if they have our consent? I mean, to play devil’s advocate, the police are ‘large and in charge’. Whether they do a good job, a bad job, or this, we end up accepting their authority regardless. This policy isn’t going to result in people simply ignoring police cars with their lights on, it won’t result in people simply ignoring police instructions, etc. While I think it’s dammed stupid, the simply reality is, we’ll take it up the bum and only complain for a bit. I don’t see our politicians demanding any heads for reducing public confidence in the police or lamenting the consequences of such poor management.

    • Yup. A deafening silence from the Minister in charge of Plod.

  • Ross

    I had a wee chuckle at the irony as I walked down Featherston St in Wellington yesterday afternoon. I saw a skateboader skating the wrong way up the road and taking up a whole lane. I had just seen a Police car at a previous intersection and saw he was turning into Featherston St so paused my walk to observe the fuzz take this skating punk down… The cop turned into Featherston St, and moved into the other lane, which of course allowed the skater to ride straight past Mr Plod (in a marked car) who completely ignored what was happening in front of his very eyes. Just a 1000 yard stare. Not even a casual comment out the window as the skater cruised straight by, on the road, going the wrong way….

    Maybe the Policemen only gets credit for issuing traffic violations on motor vehicles? No point enforcing the law then is there!

    • mommadog

      I guess if they bring in a quota for tickets given to skateboarders riding on the road that cop would have been after the skater quick smart. Until then its not worth the effort of the paperwork.

    • Blue

      I was at traffic lights, police traffic marked van was head of queue on other road at junction, when I’m about to cross on green arrow, car goes speeding through red light, waiting for police to turn on lights and go after them, still waiting!

  • Michael_l_c

    ‘a mistaken belief that only their enforcement actions were lowering the road toll, when improved car design, improved roads and better emergency services have probably all contributed much,’

    Mr WO so glad that you have taken on board comments that I have made many times. Does my ego no end of good. thx.

  • Jdogg

    Have to agree that it’s gone too far. It astounds me when I know for a fact it seems as if illegal road behaviour is ignored (partner killed by atrociously over the limit repeat drunk driver, driver drove with no license, unwarranted and unregistered car it was admitted that everybody knew and enabled it, no charges, que sera) and not even enforced when witnessing this petty filling of Govt coiffers.
    It’s dissapointing and it does not change the idiotic and selfish behaviour that I witnessed while on the roads over the holidays.
    One in particular – a carload of goodtime kids passing a campervan head-on into an oncoming passing lane on a corner. Sure enough, two cars came around the passing lane side by side, while dilbert sped up with his carload of people, saving grace, the oncoming passing car braked and pulled in behind the car he attempted to pass legally on HIS passing lane.
    Come on NZ Police, this is the behaviour that you should be stopping!

  • GenericUsername101

    The previous commissioner of Police, Rob Robinson, made a comment in his retirement speech. He stated that his main achievement during his career was to bring the Police budget into profit.

    How did he achieve this? By transferring the majority of police away from front- line policing ( violent crime, rape, burglary etc) and onto traffic enforcement instead. The former costs the police money, the latter gains the police money. He succeeded in what he set out to do, no doubt, but is that really the outcome that we wanted?

  • Michael_l_c

    The majority of police staff never were & never have been employed on full time traffic enforcement. Effectively all staff are expected to enforce traffic law with time quotas proven by tickets issued. LTSA & ACC fund a certain number of hours of enforcement for particular ‘risks’ i.e. seatbelts, traffic lights, speed, drink drive. When a police district is likely to miss its target hours it rapidly arranges operations, using many staff, to target the particular offences. There are dedicated Strategic Traffic Units all over the country.

    Although few believe it all fines ‘income’ go to the govt coffers not the police. But if police do not provide the requisite hours funded from LTSA, ACC they are in financial trouble.

    Regarding front line policing the problem here is that there is no ring fenced funding for it so it gets stripped of staff or given extra outputs to achieve, to provide hours required for ring fenced funding.

    Over recent years the deceit has come with restructures and the reductions in support staff. 10-20yr ago, more ‘non-sworn’, civilian staff, were employed to do office work previously done by police officers. This is now being reversed. The govt will not allow a reduction in police officers to keep the budget balanced therefore civilian staff get the chop. What you are not told is that although the numbers of sworn staff are at the right level, there are more & more sworn staff sitting in offices. This means more ‘front-line’ work is being done by less & less staff. The policing budget is about 80% wages so there is little wiggle room in other areas meaning a 1% budget cut must come out of the remaining 20% making it an effective 4% cut.

    • GenericUsername101

      In South Auckland, every single workday morning, there are massive checkpoints, which involve almost all available sworn police staff in the area. You are wrong. If you don’t believe me, go to the Massey road southbound on ramp any morning you want, between the hours of 7 to 11 am. This is not only a waste of resources, it is also a massive abuse of public rights. The police were only granted the right to do checkpoints on the agreement that it could never be used for the purpose of total and complete searches of people and property at will. Well, they breached that on the first day of the agreement in 1993, and now the police illegally stop and search anyone they wish to, with no due cause, every morning.

      The police adamantly refuse to attend any 111 call, unless it gains them possible revenue (and yes, I have many examples) but they immediately and illegally attend any incident that gains them revenue.

  • damm good thrashing

    If this is how it is then why don’t the police hierarchy tell it like it is and shame the government into properly funding the police force. Or will they keep reaching up to lick the arse above them and make the drivers pay for the stepladders.

  • GenericUsername101

    Let’s put things into perspective, for every person who dies on the road, 30,000 die from other causes every year in New Zealand. For every dollar spent on road enforcement, that same dollar could potentially save 30,000 times more lives if spent elsewhere.