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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Riccarton residents had 'gutsful'

Riccarton residents had 'gutsful'

Last updated 05:00 23/04/2011
It is 12.30am on Good Friday and eight police officers are spread in formation across Elizabeth St in Riccarton.

Behind them, a senior sergeant barks instructions: "Keep your line."

Other officers have gone down an alleyway to force about 100 students from a flat-warming party.

The party has got out of hand and the six women who live in the flat want it shut down.

"No arrests unless I say so," the senior sergeant says. "We're here to close the street and keep the order."

With the central city shut, Riccarton is busy. It is not all harmless fun. There is more drunkenness, more fighting, more furniture set on fire outside.

Riccarton-Wigram Community Board chairman Mike Mora says Riccarton residents have had "a gutsful" and want something done. He would like to see a liquor ban introduced.

Christchurch South police area commander Inspector Malcolm Johnston supports such calls as do several Christchurch City councillors.

Johnston says such a ban had worked well in the central city and would do so in Riccarton.

"Over the last three years there was a serious reduction in violence, particularly serious assaults [in the inner city]. By having a zero policy, we find it works."

Police feared trouble on Thursday, with bars closing at midnight.

Even before midnight, people are walking Riccarton streets, clearly drunk. Some take shopping trolleys, knock over recycling bins or kick in letterboxes.

About midnight a couch is set ablaze in Brockworth Pl.

About 11pm, police are told of six female students hosting a flat-warming party in Elizabeth St. They tell the students to keep the noise down.

"This is normal; we'll be back," an officer says.

And they are. After midnight, dozens of students pile out of the house. Some are obviously drunk, angry and frustrated. Others are willing to go home.

They are all told to leave and do so quickly before the officers march forward, pushing stragglers along Elizabeth St.

Some students try to talk to the police. They live nearby and need to get past the police line to get home, they say.

They are ignored and forced eastward. They are told to walk around the block because Elizabeth St is closed.

Before leaving, one youth approaches a constable and says: "Younger people need a place to drink. That's all I'm trying to say. It's always going happen, bro."

Nearby, a woman in high heels is pushed by police but keeps her balance. She tells officers she lives in the house they have just cleared, but she is not let through.

She is told to walk around the block. No-one is allowed through the police line.

"Enjoy your walk," she is told as the police hold their line at the corner of Wainui St.

One of the party-goers, Laura Hunter, a 19-year-old Canterbury University student, says the police used "unnecessary force" to break up the crowd.

"Friends of mine, girls and boys, were being pushed hard, causing them to fall to the ground. A simple explanation and discipline would have got the point across," she says.

"Provoking violence in teenagers is exactly what they are doing, when violence was not present at the party or among any of the people there."

The senior sergeant in Elizabeth St says the police acted appropriately.

"The softly, softly approach doesn't work," he says as a student is pushed into a police car by several constables.

Hunter says parties are going on longer than ever "due to there being no town and no place for people to head to".

"There needs to be a reasonable way to deal with these situations," she says.

Most students have left by 1am. A few remain, still trying to talk to the police line in Wainui St.

One woman, older than the students, approaches the police line from behind "to observe", as she explains. She is told to leave, doesn't, and is pushed towards the students. Moments later she is dragged away by constables.

The senior sergeant says letting one person through the line will encourage others.

Johnston says students often throw bottles at police after parties are shut down.

"You can take an hour to close a place down by being overly nice. It's very frustrating [for officers] when you have this day after day after day," he says.

- The Press

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