Beginner’s Guide to Police Harassment

Vol.45, No.8 | NZPA | Sat September 1st, 2012

A North Island police station received this question from a resident through the feedback section of a local Police website:

“I would like to know how it is possible for police officers to continually harass people and get away with it?”

In response, a sergeant posted this reply:

First of all, let me tell you this ... it’s not easy. In the Palmerston North and rural area we average one cop for every 505 people. Only about 60 per cent of those cops are on general duty (or what you might refer to as “general patrols”) where we do most of our harassing.

The rest are in non-harassing units that do not allow them contact with the day to day innocents. At any given moment, only one-fifth of the 60 per cent of general patrols are on duty and available for harassing people while the rest are off duty. So, roughly, one cop is responsible for harassing about 6000 residents.

When you toss in the commercial business and tourist locations that attract people from other areas, sometimes you have a situation where a single cop is responsible for harassing 15,000 or more people a day.

Now, your average eight-hour shift runs 28,800 seconds long. This gives a cop two-thirds of a second to harass a person, and then only another third of a second to drink a Massey iced coffee AND then find a new person to harass. This is not an easy task. To be honest, most cops are not up to the challenge day in and day out. It is just too tiring. What we do is utilise some tools to help us narrow down those people we can realistically harass.

PHONE: People will call us up and point out things that cause us to focus on a person for special harassment. “My neighbour is beating his wife” is a code phrase used often. This means we’ll come out and give somebody some special harassment. Another popular one is, “There’s a guy breaking into a house.” The harassment team is then put into action.

CARS: We have special cops assigned to harass people who drive. They like to harass the drivers of fast cars, cars with no insurance or drivers with no licences and the like. It’s lots of fun when you pick them out of traffic for nothing more obvious than running a red light.  Sometimes you get to really heap the harassment on when you find they have drugs in the car, they are drunk, or have an outstanding warrant on file.

LAWS: When we don’t have phone or cars, and have nothing better to do, there are actually books that give us ideas for reasons to harass folks. They are called “statutes”. These include the Crimes Act, Summary Offences Act, Land Transport Act and a whole bunch of others... They spell out all sorts of things for which you can really mess with people. After you read the law, you can just drive around for a while until you find someone violating one of these listed offences and harass them. Just last week I saw a guy trying to steal a car. Well, the book says that’s not allowed. That meant I had permission to harass this guy.

It is a really cool system that we have set up, and it works pretty well. We seem to have a never-ending supply of folks to harass. And we get away with it. Why? Because, for the good citizens who pay the tab, we try to keep the streets safe for them, and they pay us to “harass” some people.

Next time you are in Palmerston North, give me the old “single finger wave”. That’s another one of those codes. It means, “You can harass me.” It’s one of our favourites.

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