Friday, May 29, 2009

"Boy racers": what actually works?

The policy advice on National's proposed "boy racer" laws is a goldmine of information. For example, they have some details on what has actually been found to work in preventing and reducing illegal street racing. And it's not the sort of draconian measures favoured by Judith Collins:

Illegal street racing occurs to some degree in many locations throughout New Zealand. Local initiatives to combat illegal street racing and associated antisocial behaviour have often been successful, and have not resulted in the escalation of problems seen in Christchurch. Some examples of such action are outlined below.

Hamilton liquor ban and traffic calming measures

Hamilton City Council identified a portion of one of the city's avenues to be particularly attractive to illegal street racers due to its configuration (two lanes in each direction separated by a narrow centre verge with an ample roundabout at one end, and a parallel access road with a clear vantage point for spectators at the other end). This gathering place, referred to by illegal street racers as "T-straight", attracted hundreds of individuals from Hamilton and as far as Tauranga and Auckland. Antisocial behaviour (including damage to surrounding businesses) increased in line with crowd numbers and intoxication levels.

In 2007, Justice, via the Crime Prevention Unit, provided Hamilton City Council a one-off grant of $10,000 for a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) assessment and actions to address alcohol and vehicle related crime in the city. as a result, Hamilton City Council instigated a liquor ban in the "T-straight" area and placed gates at the end of the parallel access ways (the gates are locked every Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to prevent vehicles completing the "racing circuit"). Hamilton Police have been key supporters of these initiatives which have proven successful in discouraging illegal street racer activity in the area.

Tauranga Bylaw

In October 2007, Tauranga City Council passed the Traffic and parking Bylaw, known as the "boy racer bylaw". The Bylaw bans the congregation of people in vehicles, between the hours of 9 pm and 5 am, in 62 streets in the industrial areas of the city. the fine for breaching the bylaw is $750.

Tauranga Police report that, since the bylaw was passed, there has been a significant reduction in illegal street racer activity [One sentence withheld under s6(c) OIA - maintenance of law and order] Police suggest there are two contributing factors in the reduction of illegal street racer activity in Tauranga. Firstly, the Bylaw itself, as it was well publicised at the time of introduction and enforced by Police. Second, an illegal street racing incident led to the death of a member of the illegal street racer community. The death and the ensuing prosecution of two illegal street racers focused media attention on the issue of illegal street racers in the Tauranga community.

New Plymouth off-road facility

Following the death of an illegal street racer in New Plymouth, members of the illegal street racer community approached the City Council for support to develop an off-road facility to hold gatherings and to do "burn outs" in a controlled environment. Council staff were involved in the project which was also strongly supported by New Plymouth Police.

In October 2008, a lease agreement was negotiated with a local speedway, and money raised to lay down a concrete pad and develop safety measures. Larger events have attracted 1400 people and are held every two weeks. Police have a strong presence at events where everyone who goes onto the concrete pad is breath tested. Police have also increased enforcement action in traditional illegal street racer "hot spots", thus creating additional pressure to engage in the now legitimate racing activity.

new Plymouth Council staff report that, on the nights when events are held, there is a reduction in the number of illegal street racers at the traditional meeting points, including a significant reduction in rubbish and beer bottles. There has been no retaliation from the illegal street racers to the off-road facility initiative.

Manukau dedicated Police team

Most of the illegal street racer activity in Manukau took place near the airport. This led to significant complaints from airport management relating to illegal street racer activity, oil on the road, staff not getting to work on time for night shifts and visitors and tourists having access to the airport impeded.

A dedicated police team (Operation Sniper) was established two years ago to target illegal street racing. Both Manukau City Council and Police identify Operation Sniper as the key to managing illegal street racer activity in the area.

(Memo to Ministers of Justice and Courts on "proposals to address illegal street racing and associated antisocial behaviour", 20 February 2009)

The government's chosen measures, OTOH, seem to lead to this...

Some of these measures have human rights problems of their own - but nowhere near as serious as punishing the innocent. The common themes seem to be minor changes by local authorities, cooperation with street racers to reduce risk, and targeted policing. But none of that lets the Minister posture in front of a car crusher. And so policies which actually work - while apparently forming part of the government's response - take a back seat to the PR-driven draconian polices which won't.