New legislation has been passed that would empower police to seize and destroy the vehicles of boy racers who are charged a third time for street-racing, having two prior offences in four years.
This more punishing measure is enthusiastically championed by Police Minister Judith Collins, earning her the new nickname “Crusher” Collins.
Said Collins in a press release: “The car is the most prized possession of the illegal street racer. Confiscating and destroying the vehicles of the worst, repeat offenders will be the ultimate deterrent and send a strong signal that illegal street racing will no longer be tolerated.” Clearly, she embraces the role of enforcer. Her release concludes: “Make no mistake – Illegal street racers who continue to flout the law can look forward to a date with the crusher.”
What do local politicians say about this?
Representing National, MP Chris Tremain proudly and loyally reports on the measure in his latest video report to constituents. He calls the measure “long overdue” and expects the public will really support it. [Parenthetically: Chris, keep the videos coming, but get some better lighting … you look like you’ve had a very bad accident in a tanning salon. And pull that tie tighter.]
But then there’s the reaction of Napier Councillor Maxine Boag, in her latest commentary for Newstalk ZB. Sometimes I get the sense that Maxine has this irresistable urge to “mother” offenders … give these guys more hugs and understanding and they’ll mend their ways. Of the “crusher” approach she says:
“So third-time repeat offender boy racers will have their cars crushed. Whoopey doo. Will that really change the behaviour of these offenders? I doubt it. They will find ways around it. All this is is a simplistic public relations exercise to show how “tough” the National government is getting on offenders. If we are really serious about stopping boy racers, then we need to look much closer at the causes of this anti-social dangerous behaviour and put measures in to minimize or prevent that.”
Maxine bores in on alcohol abuse as a core cause of the problem, complaining of the “the glorification of alcohol with our sports teams” and “the ready access to alcohol in our supermarkets and all-nighter bottle stores …”
She concludes: “So crushing cars is missing the point. It’s reminiscent of putting criminals in stocks. What’s next – cutting off the hands of people who shoplift? Demolishing the houses of people who burgle?”
Actually, I find a lot of good ideas in all this.
First, I’m all for crushing the cars of third offenders. We don’t arrest drug dealers and keep their production equipment in storage until they’re rehabilitated and claim a pro-social use for the “glassware.” We don’t return confiscated weapons to felons as they leave prison. Why should we return a souped-up car that has been used effectively as a weapon?
Second, Maxine is absolutely right about the scourge of alcohol abuse. And it will be fascinating to see how boldly all politicians step up to the plate when they are finally ready to address — first in national legislation and then in local implementing by-laws — the assortment of recommendations for curbing alcohol abuse served up by the Law Commission that has intesively studied the problem.
We’ll see how “tough” our elected officials are then. But don’t expect much of a display of muscle.
For example, in a recent Hastings Council discussion of its submission on the Law Commission recommendations — which include raising the drinking age — Councillors were happy to play it soft. Mayor Yule said he thought the drinking age should be raised to 20 years across the Board, but believed that position had “little likelihood of getting through.” In response, the Councillor who has confronted the problem the most on the streets, Henare O’Keefe, said: “When are we going to show some kahunas and do what is morally right?”
Third, what’s wrong with public stocks Maxine … at least conceptually?! Public stocks were originally about shaming those who flagrantly broke the social compact intended to bind communities together and reinforce consensual norms. Today we’d be more concerned about causing psychological distress to the offender. I’m no psychologist, but one might submit that unless an offender actually feels some shame for his or her behaviour, there’s little prospect of remediation.
Overall, I think the “crusher” policy (I guarantee we’ll all get to see the first “victim’s” car get crushed on national TV), coupled with the more systemic issues Maxine raises, and the kahunas Henare wishes politicians would show (equally deserving of TV coverage), together tee up a complex of issues for further reflection and debate.