Alcohol-fuelled crime

The latest police victim statistics for Otago paint another grim picture about alcohol-fuelled crime.

From July 2016 to June 2017, 5500 victims of crime reported incidents in Otago. The worst areas for offending are Dunedin’s central city and central Queenstown.

Of the 3270 incidents in Dunedin, almost 50% were in the central city (from the Exchange to the University of Otago).

The incidents included serious assaults, sexual attacks, thefts, robberies and burglaries.

The figures show a significant proportion of crime occurred between midnight and 4am on Saturday and Sunday.

It does not take a genius to work out many of those incidents are directly attributable to alcohol. Indeed, police say the link between alcohol and late-night violence is well-established. Sergeant Ian Paulin told the district licensing committee of the "alcohol-fuelled mayhem" clearly visible on a Saturday night. Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says: "If you abuse alcohol you are more likely to become an offender or victim of crime."

Mr Cull and the University of Otago say steps have been taken to tackle the issue, and police acknowledge an improvement in the city, saying the seriously violent incidents have decreased.

Is that only  a matter of luck, however? Whenever violence flares up, there is the potential for death or permanent and life-changing injury.

Any injuries inflicted as a result of alcohol-fuelled rage or frustration are unacceptable.

This newspaper has carried too many news articles and court reports of lives changed because of the reckless actions of intoxicated individuals. Often, the victims are unknown to their assailants.

They have the misfortune of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, part of a culture that continues to have flawed attitudes to alcohol consumption.

It is not just strangers at risk, of course. Friends and family fuelled by drink can end up brawling. Sexual assaults are often carried out by assailants known to their victims. And police carrying out their work, trying to ensure the safety of the public, are put at risk, too.

There is also a financial cost to cleaning up the mess of vomit, urine, broken glass and other damage, the regular weekend detritus. Then there are the significant health and justice costs to account for.

Sadly, it seems society still tolerates much. Actions to control drinking hours, alcohol availability and pricing are regularly hampered or watered down, and sectors of the community seem keen to blame another.

Personal responsibility is, of course, desirable. But rational thinking goes out of the window when excessive alcohol enters the picture.

This newspaper is regularly approached by those who have featured in our pages and on our website for crimes committed, often under the influence of alcohol. These are often young people, sometimes foreigners, who have been convicted on various offences and who want the public record of that offending removed as it is impeding their job or travel prospects.

This paper has some sympathy for the plight of those who have not considered the long-term consequences of their actions. But the reality for victims of crime and the members of the public who could have been  put in harm’s way (by those driving under the influence, for example) cannot be ignored.

It is right to highlight the issues, right to demand accountability from all sectors, and right to continually question whether society’s attitudes towards alcohol are acceptable, and whether our governing policies are adequate. 

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