The Police Officer - Sergeant Al Lawn
Officer in charge of the Canterbury Police Alcohol Strategy and Enforcement Team.
Every week, between Thursday night and Sunday morning, Al Lawn sees a theft take place. He says it’s the alcohol industry’s product stealing Police officers and hospital beds away from New Zealanders who may have had their car stolen or have a worrisome niggle in their chest.
“We’ll try to get there,” Lawn says, but it’s more than likely the Police will be too busy loading an inebriated teenager into an ambulance or clearing the road after a drink-driving fatality.
“On a Thursday, Friday, Saturday night, most incidents involve alcohol. We run from one job to another.”
With 16 years of frontline Police experience, Lawn says he has seen a shift in recent years to much higher consumption of cheap, off-licence alcohol in private homes before young people head into town. He quotes research that shows the average person arrives at an on-licence establishment with 10–13 standard drinks under their skin. He also says 44 percent of alcohol in New Zealand is consumed in a drink-toget- drunk mentality.
“It’s nearly half the alcohol consumed. When the producers of alcohol try to minimise the problem, they are talking through a hole in their head.”
Lawn has five staff on the Canterbury Police Alcohol Strategy and Enforcement Team. They work on proactive measures, such as the successful move to a one-way door policy in Christchurch where, from 3am onwards, bars have elected to only let patrons out and not in. This has resulted in fewer people milling around the streets severely intoxicated at 6am or 7am.
Lawn’s team has also worked on a blacklisting system in the student suburb of Riccarton where on- and off-licences have joined forces to slap month-long alcohol-purchasing bans on individuals who have been, in Lawn’s words, “a dick” while drinking.
But alongside the proactive work, there is always a depressing amount of reactive alcohol-related policing.
One recent night, Lawn had to wait for an ambulance to collect a 16-year-old girl outside an after-ball function. She had an expensive dress, new shoes and spent 7 hours in hospital after she vomited raspberry-flavoured alcopops all over Lawn’s car.
“There’s a fine line between alcohol poisoning and death for a little one like her.”
The team also trawls through all fatal car accident files to assess what role, if any, alcohol played in the crash. One Canterbury hotel was found to be the scene of drinking before three fatalities in 6 months.
With the privilege of making money out of alcohol goes the responsibility of looking out for patrons, Lawn says.
Lawn would like to see the price of alcohol go up, fewer off-licences and greater restrictions on the hours supermarkets can sell alcohol. He’d also like to eliminate all advertising of alcohol product pricing so outlets cannot compete on price.
“Alcohol is not a normal commodity. It’s a drug.”