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Girls behaving badly

The Southland Times
Last updated 05:00 03/10/2009
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Overuse of booze shows that there's no gender divide when it comes to bad behaviour.

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Reporter JARED MORGAN goes inside a three-weekend police operation to clamp down on booze-fuelled violence and disorder on Invercargill streets and finds it's girls just as much as boys who are behaving badly.

An attractive blonde woman teeters on her heels as she and a friend cross the street in front of the Invercargill police van. It's 2am on Sunday.

Well-dressed and immaculately groomed, she pauses as she spots the van through glazed eyes, then stops in the middle of the Tay St pedestrian crossing. She tugs at the hem of her dress and slowly raises it. It's a seamless move as she hikes it up, revealing her see-through lacy green panties and midriff.

A quick shimmy follows before she drops the hem of her dress like a curtain and continues walking.

Constable Sally Brown is unimpressed with copping an eyeful. "I can't believe she just did that," she says.

Leaping from the driver's seat, Ms Brown collars the woman and leads her back to the van before locking her in the back.

The whole event unfolds before the traffic lights turn green.

Back at the Invercargill police station, the 26-year-old woman has gone from provocative to hysterical.

"I've been naughty," she wails.

She attracts the attention of three young men waiting for the paperwork from their arrests to be completed. She objects when one of them asks why she is here. "Don't look at me," she shrieks.

Senior Constable Brett "Gordy" Pay struggles to reason with her as he tries to get details to complete the paperwork for her offensive behaviour charge.

"I'm not a bad person," she cries. "It's my grandad's birthday today ... and ... and ... I don't want to be tired."

Semantics.

It turns out the grandad is not her own, but her partner's, whom she claims through association.

The incident is less typical of the majority dealt with during the three nights of Operation Trojan but the key ingredient leading to it and every other offence is the same.

Alcohol.

She claims she's "only had two" but her glazed eyes, slurred speech and a Southland "r" that threatens to roll away from her suggest she's also lost count.

Her post-arrest remorse is rare, possibly the result of her age; she's slightly older than most of the boozed and confused people police deal with during the operation.

Most argue back.

"F**k off."

"You can't arrest me."

"What's your badge number."

"You're just being a smartarse."

When quoted their rights: "That's not a right."

One wise-cracking young woman even hits back with "that's a choice" when told she has the right to remain silent.

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As the officers tell it, get a couple of drinks into Invercargill youth and Dutch courage pushes some to issue a direct challenge to police — every weekend.

Operation Trojan is into phase two, or the second night, when I join the team one Saturday.

The night starts with a briefing from operation head Sergeant John "AJ" Harris at 10 o'clock.

The first night was overt, with uniformed officers and marked police cars highly visible in the central city. They arrested 26 people, 21 of them aged 25 or less, with most between 18 and 20.

Tonight, it's the opposite approach, with team members in mufti and driving unmarked cars as the operation goes undercover.

Harris reminds us what the operation is about: "Our mission is to reduce the amount of violence, damage and disorder."

The focus is on behaviour in the central city and other trouble spots. Peak times for offending are between midnight and 6am in the fallout from Friday and Saturday nights, the time 45 per cent of reported violence and disorder and 42 per cent of reported damage happens.

Statistics are telling, Mr Harris says.

Offenders and victims, both male and female, are mostly under 25, and alcohol — either consumed at home or swilled in bars and clubs — is a contributing factor.

Another worrying trend is that young women seem to have less control of their behaviour.

"The stats show assaults by females on other females have overtaken male-on-male assaults in the CBD," Harris says.

It is 10.30pm when I head out in an unmarked car with constables Gordy Pay and Dawn Nielsen-Vold.

We get about 200m when they spot a Daihatsu Charade parked outside the public toilets in Don St, within sight of the police station. It's known as a "hot spot" for disorder.

The three boys and one girl in the car are all 18.

"Bloody mufti," one of the boys says as he slips his bottle of bourbon and cola through the open window of the Daihatsu. He and another of the teens are arrested for breaching the city liquor ban.

It seems to set the tone for the night. Half an hour later the scenario repeats outside the public library in Dee St.

The police van is already there and one of the males from a parked Honda Civic car has been loaded into one of the compartments after he and others in the car were spotted drinking alcohol.

A 17-year-old girl takes exception as Nielsen-Vold deals with her breach.

"Aw, that's real bad that you can go do this without a uniform and sh*t," the girl complains.

At 11.30pm constables Pay and Nielsen-Vold spot a passenger hanging out the window of a Toyota Corolla stationwagon cruising north along Dee St. They turn on the flashing red and blue lights and pull over the Corolla.

While Pay talks to the driver, Nielsen-Vold circles the car looking for booze.

An 18-year-old male scrambles to hide an open bottle of bourbon and cola between his feet and kicks an unopened bottle of pre-mixed vodka under the front seat as she opens the rear left-hand passenger door. He's too slow and too obvious.

He kicks up when Nielsen-Vold asks him to get out of the car and empty the bottles.

"F**k off, we're not doing anything wrong," he says, emptying both bottles within centimetres of the constable's feet.

He loses control when she tells him she plans to arrest him for breaching the liquor ban.

"You're not f**kin' arresting me," he shouts and starts swinging the empty bottles wildly as Pay asks him to get into the police car.

"What are you doing," his 17-year-old girlfriend yells before letting out a blood-curdling scream as he starts struggling.

She and two other girls surround the two constables as they struggle with her boyfriend on the footpath. He refuses to let go of the bottles as they restrain him and ends up wearing some pepper spray for his efforts.

"Do you know who my father is?" his girlfriend screams. "F**k off. This is police brutality."

The constables tell her to back off.

She stands her ground, wild-eyed and defiant. They arrest her and charge her with disorderly behaviour.

Her boyfriend's bender continues on the way back to the police station. "I'll f**kin smash you c**t," he tells Pay, adding a charge of threatening language to one of resisting police and the original breaching the liquor ban charge.

The same story repeats again and again as the numbers of young men and women brought into the watchhouse at the police station go from a trickle to a steady stream.

All have been drinking and all are abusive, especially the girls.

Back on the streets, the drinking has moved from cars to the footpaths as some Saturday night carousers carry the odd bottle, presumably smuggled out of the last bar, to swig from as they do the rounds of the late-night drinking spots.

Soon after 2am constables Pay and Nielsen-Vold spot three shaven-headed, jack-booted men loping south along Dee St. The trio are all drinking when we pull up beside the footpath. Despite their appearance, the three give the constables the warmest reception of the night.

All 19, they know the score, saying their goal was to get to Esk St before getting caught.

They are three blocks away.

One of the men appears excitable but in good spirits so I ask him about the the tattoo across his forehead, written in a font popular for German propaganda during World War 2. The outlines are faint as if the tat is incomplete.

"Yeah man," he replies proudly. "It says `f**k society'."

I underestimated his excitability. It's like flicking a switch as he gives a straight arm salute and starts yelling at passing traffic.

"Skinheads are taking over the world," he shouts as his mates join him in the fascist salute.

They are soon led to the waiting prison escort van.

The liquor ban breaches and other offences continue long after the bars have shut. Arrests continue until after 5am.

Three more people are arrested that night than during phase one of Operation Trojan, although the demographics have shifted a bit. Twenty-five are under 25, including 15 aged 17, 18 or 19.

Three weeks later police are back for phase three, the tail-end of operation and the night punctuated by the Tay St flasher.

The police involved get a sense of deja vu.

One offender feels the same. An 18-year-old man caught breaching the liquor ban on the first night of the operation is back for more. Compliant the first time around when he was caught with an open stubbie of Speight's in Don St, a month later he is passive-aggressive on the forecourt of Shell Dee St. He's leaning against a car, a bottle of bourbon resting on the boot.

Constable Royden Muirhead asks whose bottle it is.

"Mine," he says, putting the bottle to his lips and taking another swig.

Of the 18 arrested on the third night, all but three are under 25 and 11 are 20 or younger.

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