The day after it published my column criticising the heavy-handed police enforcement of speeding and alcohol limits (see previous post below), The Dominion Post ran a story quoting Assistant Commissioner Dave Cliff [click to read] as saying police were very encouraged by public support for the police crackdown.
Saturday's story didn't mention my column, but I'm sure police would have taken note of the 400-plus comments that it generated - which were overwhelmingly supportive - and the 7000-plus readers who "shared" it.
In the circumstances, I would imagine police are very keen to cite any shred of evidence suggesting that the public supports their over-zealous approach, which would explain why Cliff was quick to boast of the number of *555 calls advising police of bad driver behaviour. But it's a big leap to infer from these phone calls, as Cliff did, that the public endorse what the police are doing. In fact it's such a huge leap, I wonder whether it's honest.
An equally plausible explanation is that people are phoning *555 because they think the police have got it wrong. Many of those callers might be phoning in exasperation because they keep seeing dangerous driving that goes undetected and unpunished because of the rigid police fixation with speed traps and checkpoints.
Their message to the police may well be: "Where the bloody hell are you? While you're ticketing people for driving slightly over the limit on relatively safe stretches of road or for having one glass of wine too many over dinner (even though they may still be perfectly capable of driving safely), out on the highway people are doing far more dangerous things - passing on double yellow lines, running red lights, texting while driving or sticking doggedly to 70 kph and not noticing in their rear-vision mirror (because they never use it) that dozens of cars are stuck behind them."
Most people realise that patrol cars can't be everywhere, but what makes many motorists angry and cynical is that the police direct their resources at soft targets and pretend it's working. Even the AA, in its impeccably polite way, suggests the police have got it wrong, and that they should be focusing on known danger spots rather than blitzing safe stretches of road knowing that a few drivers are going to edge over the 100 kph limit and get pinged.
As much as Dave Cliff may want us to believe that the public are behind the police, that's not the impression I've got from the reaction to last Friday's column or from the many people who have been in touch with me directly.
In fact if I were the police, or Police Minister Michael Woodhouse (heard of him?), I'd be deeply concerned - because the dissatisfaction is being expressed not by the anti-police brigade, but overwhelmingly by conservative, law-abiding people who would normally be heartily pro-police. These are the very people whose support and goodwill the police can least afford to lose.