Crate Day – the thin blue line

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A small team of cops is faced with stopping a horde of binge-drinkers in Queenstown on Crate Day.

Queenstown police’s alcohol harm prevention team – five officers and a leading sergeant – are preparing to enforce a new bylaw banning the public celebration next Saturday.

They can dish out $250 tickets to people drinking in the ban-zone.

Sergeant Chris Brooks, who trains the team, says he doesn’t think there’ll be fewer people out drinking on Crate Day, as the ban was only approved by Queenstown’s council last month.

“There’s a bylaw in place for a reason – to make sure the town isn’t wrecked,” Brooks says.

“There’s a group out there that just can’t drink responsibly. That’s one of the reasons why the ban came in – to be another tool.”

Queenstown cops presented 59 photos of public drunkenness and litter in its submission to council on the bylaw, and called for a blanket ban on unlicensed public drinking year-round.

The bylaw, which comes into effect next Friday, didn’t go that far.

It bans drinking outdoors in the district’s town centres and some other public areas on Crate Day. It also extends the current year-round ban on drinking in the CBD and public reserves to run from 8pm to 8am, instead of beginning at 10pm.

The alcohol harm prevention team was first deployed on Queen’s Birthday weekend, and also at Queenstown Winter Festival, Winter Pride and Labour Weekend.

They talk to bar duty managers in a bid to stop drink-related call-outs in the early hours by “nipping it in the bud”.

Brooks says: “Crate Day won’t be any different really, we will have a prevention approach to start with, so we don’t have pictures of people curled up in the corner or drunken offenders.

“We can’t do it alone, we have to do it with the council and the community.”

He says “there are different levels” to how police will react, including warning drinkers about their behaviour before further action’s taken.

Licensees will be visited to make sure they don’t “oversell” crates of booze on the day.

Brooks says the team’s out on the steets to stop assaults and other alcohol-related bad behaviour and crime.

This will leave the police force’s rostered-on response officers freer to do their jobs, and provide back-up if needed.

Council officers can’t issue infringement notices, but the council has reviewed signs in the district, and aims to have new signs placed around the community closer to Crate Day.

Council comms advisor Rebecca Pitts says it’s “difficult to surmise whether there will be a decrease” in the number of people out drinking on the day.

But Pitts says there was a decrease in downtown public drinking after a temporary ban was introduced for last year’s event.

joshua.walton@scene.co.nz