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Harsh lesson to learn when you cross paths with the wrong arm of the law

Opinion

Whatever happened to the old-school concept of a wise country cop meting out some commonsense justice to a young offender, asks Michael Blucher

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Dear long serving Senior Sergeant of the bush

Let me start by acknowledging the complexity of your chosen career.

There’s no question – it’s a tough gig.

Honestly, I wouldn’t do your job for all the Great Northern beer consumed west of the Great Dividing Range.

But I wonder if you’ve had time to reflect on your decision to charge a recent visitor to your area with a serious drink driving offence.

I’d be surprised if you didn’t remember the incident – the heavily intoxicated young bloke that you caught asleep behind the wheel of car, parked outside a house, just a short walk from the 21st birthday party he’d been attending?

To his misfortune, and your apparent delight, the keys were in the ignition. Not that he was going anywhere. He was where he needed to be – at “home”. There was just no room inside the cabin he was staying in – some other bloke had swiped his bed – so he opted for the next best thing – the cosiness of his mate’s car. Flattened out the front seat, and off he went, into la-la-land.

I admit – pretty stupid to have the keys in the ignition, but they needed to be to run the heater. You might remember – bloody cold night – four degrees max.

That’s where you nabbed him. Hauled him out of the car, took him down to the station and charged him with a high range DUI. No surprise there – he was properly trolleyed. A carton of the aforementioned Great Northern in his gullet. They love a party in the bush.

Apparently your less senior, more empathetic police partner advocated letting the young bloke off, on the strength of an honest mistake. After all, he’d done the right thing. He’d walked home. He clearly wasn’t going anywhere – his night was done.

You obviously saw differently. And by the letter of the law, of course you’re correct. Technically he was in charge of a motor vehicle. Less technically, he was occupying a makeshift bed, but in your angry eyes, that didn’t matter.

I can almost hear the words being spat out of your mouth…“Read the law book, Sonny Jim.” You get behind the wheel of a vehicle in an intoxicated state, and you’re culpable. Do the crime, serve the time.”

What I want to know, Sergeant, why so angry? What’s going on in your life that compels you to make that decision on that night? Do reckon you might have been doing the job a little too long?

The circumstances were abundantly clear. Young bloke has had a big night, like all his mates, done the right thing, walked home, and then in the pursuit a little warmth – holed himself up in the wrong spot. Constable Junior Burger could see it for what it was – a naive, honest mistake.

But you? Is that why you joined the force in the first place? To teach young blokes harsh lessons? Remind them that life’s not fair?

Surely there is something in the oath you took at the academy all those years ago that corrals you into a more community minded head space than that?

Another bush copper I know had a very different approach. When he caught a young bloke about to get behind the wheel of a car half cut, he’d confiscate his keys and drive him home. The copper knew where all the potential “fringe dwellers’ in town lived – he knew their names.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Early the next morning, he’d appear back at the house, and with the parent’s consent, drag the bleary eyed culprit out of bed, and take him down to the local gym, where he’d flog him half to death with aerobic exercise.

The copper would do the workout with him. That seemed to work. The Sergeant was feared, liked and respected, all in the one breath.

Far be it for me or anyone else to tell you how to do your job, sir, but I gather from talking to locals you’re not achieving quite the same cut-through. Specifically, in relation to the “having a kip in a warm car” incident. I think you might have missed an opportunity.

With just a smidgeon of compassion and leniency, you could have heightened that young bloke’s respect for authority. Reminded him that while police officers have a responsibility to uphold the law, they are also people who know, themselves, the difference between right and wrong. They can delineate between intentional and accidental, serious and spurious.

Instead, you’ve taught him to be cynical and wary and disrespectful. A learning moment lost.

I gather the local town folk are all looking forward to the time Constable Junior Burger takes over the reins of the station, and you’re confined to barracks.

I think that would be best for everybody, your good self included.

 

 

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