Saturday, August 7, 2010

Violence on Australian Streets At Night, And The Public Order Riot Squad.

Brute Force: Part 2




My reader is probably wondering why I focus so much on violence in Australia, so I’ll once again admit my perhaps negative bias – I’m a night shift cab driver. I’ve reduced my Saturday night shifts to one a fortnight, not because I don’t need the extra money, but I can just no longer stomach the Saturday night drunkenness and bad behaviour. Before every Saturday shift, I get knots in my stomach, and when it’s over on Sunday morning I tick off one more Saturday as “survived”, and look forward to the two week break from the mayhem. I guess the most obvious question is: Then why do I keep driving cabs? I work Sundays too, but they are not as bad as Saturdays, and Mondays and Tuesdays it seems like a totally different job, even enjoyable. I enjoy the challenge of learning streets, and particularly meeting some very interesting people. Some of those experiences people will pay for, but I get paid for them. It’s sort of like rendering a community service too, and in that sense gratifying. It’s not like a nine to five job where you clock on, clock off, and see the same people everyday.

The two 60 Minutes clips (I deleted one because of copyright issues) above show what the reality is for every cab driver on Saturday night. Imagine having to deal with some of these hooligans without weapons or immediate protection, and back up procedures for emergencies can take a while. Rarely does a Saturday night go by without one or two drivers calling for assistance, sometimes more, as happened several weeks ago in one of the more serious incidents where a Bangladeshi driver was punched in the face only because he was a Muslim, and a foreigner. The customer asked him two questions? Where are you from? And are you a Muslim? Then bang! Punched in the head. (This driver is a friend of mine, and a very gentle person who would not hurt the proverbial fly, and never tries to force his religious beliefs on others.)

Some comments on the clips I’ve posted from 60 Minutes. Do we need a Public Order Riot Squad? Well the 2006 Cronulla “race riots”, and the Macquarie Fields riots establish beyond any doubt that we do. Beat police are simply not trained nor equipped to handle riots at this level. The larger question is whether the PORS should get involved in policing what I’ll call the “Saturday night mayhem”. Obviously a major riot isn’t going to happen every weekend, so we can’t hang out the PORS to dry waiting for the next major riot. The “tough policing” is obvious from the clips above. Were a beat police officer to “man-handle” people with physical force the way the PORS do, they could be charged with assault. This is probably a reaction to ridiculous laws restricting how much force police can legally use “within the law”.

I get the point made by a (retired?) senior police officer critical of the PORS. We’re trying to mop up instead of looking at causes. We’re trying to shut the gate after the horse has bolted. A Public Order Riot Squad isn’t going to stop underage drinking, nor the free flow of illegal drugs, but does he have a solution as to what will stop this? Can anything but draconian measures at either end, preventative or curative, stop what’s happening? I think the PORS is a good move by Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione. Do I think it’s the ultimate solution? Hell no. Do I think they’re going to solve the drunkenness, drug, and crime problems at night. Again, no. But it’s a start. A start to letting the lawless hooligans who have no respect for law and order or their fellow human beings being put on notice that their criminal behaviour will no longer be tolerated, and sometimes it is necessary to fight force with force.

What we need to do now is look at long term solutions which involve preventative measures. I’m definitely not in favour of a “police state”, nor should anyone in the right mind, but in my opinion we do need the Public Order Riot Squad at this stage. In that vein, I’ll tell an interesting anecdote. One night a customer told me that he “only had $25” for a fare which was going to be $30. No big deal? Only $5 difference? If you buy a McDonalds meal that cost $4.95, do you think they’ll let you get away with paying $4.90? Just try it sometime. You want a $7.00 kebab, do you think they’ll give it to you for $6.90? Okay, maybe if you personally know the kebab shop owner, or you’re a regular customer. Yet we cab drivers have to do “deals” all the time. Anyway, to my point. My customer was obviously trying to “bargain” his way to a cheaper fare (happens all the time), but he did say he would go inside, if necessary, to “get the extra money”. When we arrived at his home, a police car was just next door to his house – and he immediately produced a $50 note to pay for the fare. The sight of that police car struck so much fear into him that he called off his stunt. So what is the moral of the story? While police won’t stop crime, their presence alone certainly inhibits it. When I’m working with potentially dangerous or thieving customers, there’s nothing that makes me feel safer than the presence of police nearby.

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