Cops at bottle shops: expensive bluff?

2581 Police Auxiliary Liquor Inspector Sam Joseph OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA

 

How much does the Point of Sale Intervention – cops at bottleshops – rely on bluff?

 

Some say all that counts is that it works. But will people wise up and call the bluff, and will the enormous POSI costs be yet another Gunner Government flop?

 

And in the meantime, is it really working? Or is the racial profiling, of which there is ample anecdotal evidence, offsetting any gain?

 

How often you are asked by a POSI officer to show your ID seems to depending a lot on whether you are black or or not.

 

Under the Liquor Act police officers, including police auxiliaries, and liquor inspectors can impose on you some fairly drastic measures.

 

Having your car confiscated is one of them.

 

Under section 101ZK of the Act you can become a target if you’re on licensed premises; or within 20 metres of an entrance to them; an entrance to the building containing the premises; a driveway or car park for the premises; and you appear to be purchasing or intending to purchase liquor for consumption away from the premises; or you are in possession of liquor.

 

So imagine yourself sitting in a mate’s car, outside Yeperenye shopping centre. You have a sixpack on the back seat, and your mate’s just come back from checking his postbox across the road.

 

An “officer or inspector” as the law describes them – let’s call them officer – stops your mate from driving off.

 

Both you and he are required “to follow any reasonable direction to allow the officer or inspector to exercise a power under this section,” says the law.

 

You will be required to state your name and address, show an approved ID and “answer questions about the information contained in the approved identification to confirm that the information is accurate and to find out if the customer is prohibited from consuming liquor.”

 

You may then be asked by the officer where you intend to consume the liquor.

 

You may then say, words to the effect: “I am going to consume the liquor in a location where it is legal to do so.”

 

That of course would include all the national parks surrounding Alice Springs, and 10,000 or so dwellings and several thousand commercial premises and workshops where Friday after-work drinks are a time-honoured tradition.

 

Having received this answer, is the officer entitled to probe further? Or would that be an impertinent intrusion into your private life? Are you required to give further answers? The law is silent on this.

 

Purchasing and possession of alcohol in a public place in Alice Springs is not prohibited, but according to anecdotal evidence, when someone nominates a dry area as their domicile, they are refused the purchase. Is that so?

 

Consumption in a public place is prohibited  – but you haven’t consumed any, and try as he (or she) may, the officer would not find any proof that you’ve broken a law.

 

Yet you are not free to go. What happens next when the person in possession of alcohol provides no further answers?

 

Aren’t you innocent until proven guilty – or has that gone by the wayside? And what has happened to the right to remain silent?

 

You may then need to state whether you intend “to provide any of the liquor to another person.”

 

At this point your patience may be running low, and you may say: “Officer, in all probability I will be drinking three of these stubbies and my mate here the other three. So, yes, I am going to be providing liquor to another person.”

 

As the law puts it you will now have “to answer questions about the other person, to find out if the other person is prohibited from consuming liquor”.

 

As a consequence of that the officer “may investigate whether either or both of the following apply to the customer [you] or the other person”: a prohibition or a bail condition.

 

And now it gets really tricky.

 

It seems the three months training of a police auxiliary on POSI assignment must have included advanced training in psychology – or telepathy? fortune telling? – in addition to the use of a taser, a chest-mounted camera, handcuffs and a 9mm 12-shot Glock pistol.

 

Because now the officer must look deep into your psyche, and work out what you are a likely to do in the future: On “reasonable grounds” he or she must decide whether “an alcohol-related offence is likely to occur”.

 

The law is silent on what “reasonable grounds” are – maybe something like this: Don’t like the way he looked at me … mmmmh, there was that momentary hesitation in one of the answers … better safe than sorry.

 

p2309-police-bottle-shop-1At this point the officer seizes your sixpack and prevents you from entering the liquor shop.

 

That all this may be an unlikely scenario is part of the problem: Confronted by a heavily armed authority figure, how would a person act whose address on their driver’s licence is not in the Golf Course Estate but Hoppy’s Camp or Hidden Valley?

 

Would he or she saying to the officer: “There is no law against me buying a legal substance and dealing with it in any manner that is legal.”

 

Or is that person – well – going to be bluffed and slink off? Is there some nasty racial profiling in progress?

 

The liquor buyer will already have been through one filter – the scanning of his or her ID, a process conducted by the liquor vendor and at no cost to the taxpayer.

 

If the intending buyer is a banned drinker that check would have ruled out any purchase.

 

If the vendor fails to conduct that process adequately he will face being shut down for a few days.

 

So why the POSI? The Gunner Government is persisting with this fraught system which has repeatedly been exposed as being expensive.

 

In May 2016 the NT News quoted police sources believing that “the overtime bill for POSI officers has reached the seven figure mark, with officers filling the extra hours at Tennant Creek, Katherine and Alice Springs on a daily basis.”

 

With customary hype Attorney-General Natasha Fyles said in March last year that new “key alcohol legislation to make our communities safer” would allow for 75 Police Auxiliaries to conduct point of sale duties outside takeaway alcohol shops in Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek.

 

“This is the first time any dedicated resources have been provided to monitor bottle shops, and will enable police officers to get back on the beat and into communities,” she said.

 

In November last year Ms Fyles said amendments to the Liquor Act will “provide powers to specialised police officers to undertake covert operations to capture anyone purchasing alcohol on behalf of someone on the BDR … giving the Commissioner of Police the power to place a 48 hour suspension on licensed venues deemed to be irresponsibly selling alcohol and increasing penalties for secondary supply.”

 

Two weeks ago we quoted the police that in addition to 120 new officers, “75 Police Auxiliary Liquor Inspectors will join the ranks.

 

“This month 21 Police Auxiliary Liquor Inspectors will graduate, with a further squad of 15 commencing,” said Deputy Commissioner Michael Murphy APM.

 

“The Northern Territory Police Force is on track to grow to a 1500-strong force by mid-2020 through continued recruitment.”

 

At present the NT Police Southern Command has three times as many police officers per head of population when compared to the national average.

 

Deputy Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro declined to comment and was not available to be interviewed.

 

We sent a draft of this report, and several questions, to the police ahead of publication, with requests for comment and to offer the right of reply. We had not received a reply before the nominated deadline but will publish it as an update if and when it is received.

 

 

 

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11 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Local1
    Posted June 2, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    Good to see some stats from Vicki, the correlation cannot be just coincidence.
    As far as profiling goes, excellent.
    There already is profiling for jobs in the form of special measure, and as police have said to me personally, if I know the bloke trying to purchase a bottle of Jacks is going to and his wife to hospital, he will do it.
    Nice to see coppers who are not afraid to apply common sense.
    I bought a carton the other night and was asked for ID, so to say it does not happen is erroneous. Once again, the PALI scheme is working according to the stats.

    View Comment
  2. Bob Taylor
    Posted May 29, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    At no cost to the tax payer I assume, I was asked similar questions by an employee of a bottle shop in Port Augusta who entered the details of our purchase in a note book and was obviously enforcing the SA legislation.
    No need for a POSI there, it would appear that the responsibility and cost of enforcing the SA Liquor Act is absorbed by the licensee.

    View Comment
  3. Posted May 29, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    The power to seize vehicles carrying liquor into alcohol-prohibited areas has existed in the NT for decades. This is nothing new.
    The introduction of the full-time PALI system in Alice Springs on October 1 last year, following the Riley Review’s recommendations, has contributed to a very significant reduction in alcohol-related assaults, alcohol-related domestic violence assaults, and alcohol-related ED presentations.
    These figures are from NT Police and Health:
    Oct 2017 – Mar 2018 total alcohol-related assaults: 722
    Oct 2018 – Mar 2019 total alcohol-related assaults: 360
    Difference: 362 or –50.13%
    Oct 2017 – Mar 2018: DV alcohol-related assaults: 442
    Oct 2018 – Mar 2019: DV alcohol-related assaults: 245
    Difference: 197 or –44.57%
    ED presentations alcohol-related ASP Hospital
    Oct 2017 – Feb 2018: 2161
    Oct 2018 – Feb 2019: 1184
    Difference: 977 or –45.21%
    There is undoubtedly a bit of cost-saving – economic, health and social – associated with these reductions.
    It appears this measure is making the community safer, and it will be evaluated – not as a hypothetical, but using factual information. In the meantime, we should be thankful for the improved amenity in the town and the reduced number of assaults.
    “Reasonable grounds” may not be definitively explained in legislation, but the law is far from silent on this test. Try your search engine.
    The new PALI powers that allow people to be questioned in car parks and vehicles are an extension, and their use does need to be monitored, as PAAC has argued in its submission on the Exposure Draft of the Liquor Bill 2019.
    The scheme itself we know is discriminatory, because it affects mainly those who live on alcohol-prohibited land, and they are of course Aboriginal people.
    It is likely that if challenged, however, it would be found to be a form of positive discrimination, or “special measure” aimed at improving the circumstances of Aboriginal people.
    Its applications should not be discriminatory. PALIs should be approaching all-comers.
    Whilst Erwin maintains a stated preference for bottle shops to open just one day a week, the chances of this occurring are non-existent.
    We will just have to put up with evidence-based reforms and rigorous evaluations.

    View Comment
  4. Chiara Maqueda
    Posted May 28, 2019 at 10:37 pm

    @ Erwin: I have noted your brief mention of “racial profiling” and another comment.
    Look, the very simple thing to do is what I do as a whitefella is automatically produce my ID to one of the PALIs or coppers. They always accept and vet it.
    And, yes, I get asked some questions about where I will drink it. So what? It’s a very small cost in time and effort to – collectively in Alice Springs – reap the benefit in terms of reductions in hospital admissions for assaults generally and domestic violence in particular.
    I don’t know what the overtime in costs of PALIs is, but I would bet that the scores of reduced admissions for DV alone would outweigh costs to the taxpayer – if you want to measure it in crude monetary terms.
    For me? Saving the lives and safety of families in terms of reduced DV etc is worth it.
    So think about it. Produce your ID to the PALIs and reap benefits for our whole community!

    View Comment
  5. Jack
    Posted May 28, 2019 at 8:08 pm

    Correct, James, as it’s our taxes that fund this. I for one didn’t authorise my tax to pay for this ever.
    As for the Village idiot I can’t wait for the Saturday of the Finke weekend when 20 non Indigenous males waiting for the bottle shop to open.
    Every one has the right to drink and yes it does bring out the problems, but take a really good look Aboriginal people do it in public and not behind closed doors like non indigenous or at a BBQ big noting themselves against their own partners.

    View Comment
  6. Heather Wells
    Posted May 28, 2019 at 7:03 pm

    Perhaps a correlation between costs of POSI and the costs associated with hospital admissions, law enforcement issues would clarify matters better.
    And maybe a survey on who gets asked why, when, where in regard to liquour sales would answer the points brought up in this article.
    Oh and while you are assessing all of the above, maybe morning and evening attendances at the local watering holes should be looked at, like who gets asked why they are drinking at 10am, why they are in these places everyday and night?
    Perhaps then the POSI might make sense to those who believe it is a waste of time, resources and money.

    View Comment
  7. Kilyo
    Posted May 28, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    The Territory is run by police. We didn’t vote for the police.

    View Comment
  8. James T Smerk
    Posted May 28, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    Spot on Jack. Apparently somewhere down the line someone decided the Government will give bottle shops private security (known as police) and let them get away with not having to be responsible for serving alcohol responsibly.
    They can just sit back and make mass profit from the one thing that creates the most issues in this town.
    I understand the benefits of what is happening but wonder why the public are picking up the tab for these private companies.
    Will the police be offering security services for the casino and Club Eastside next?
    Ps.: It’s not a police problem, it’s the decision makers.

    View Comment
  9. Village Idiot
    Posted May 27, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    I see nobody mentioned the word Aboriginal here.

    View Comment
  10. Jack
    Posted May 27, 2019 at 8:35 pm

    Gee whiz, the bottle shops are laughing all the way to the bank.
    Where is their responsibilities as they have to provide the security and service to their own shops? Not the Police.
    Congrats on creating more jobs and not holding the bottle shops accountable.

    View Comment
  11. Debbie Bailey
    Posted May 27, 2019 at 8:24 pm

    The fact that there are so many communities in the NT that are under manned or not manned at all is ridiculous.
    It takes no less than two hours to get assistance where I live and there are now only two full time police officers at Ti Tree to cover a huge area.
    We have assaults, break ins, brawls and it just doesn’t matter.
    So let’s sit on our arses outside a bottleshop just to prevent a few people doing the wrong thing.
    The fact that the powers that be don’t value the communities in the NT speaks volumes.

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