Cops at bottlos: how it works, and how it doesn't


p2314-police-bottle-2By ERWIN CHLANDA
The debate about Point of Sale Interventions – POSIs for short, or cops at bottle shops – runs along two lines.
Firstly, it has been effective in reducing some crime, especially domestic violence, reflected in reduced arrests and hospital admissions.
But secondly, the measure is seen as targeting Indigenous people, especially as reported by what we are fond of calling the “southern media,” always on the hunt for reasons to beat us up over our supposed cowboy culture.
The answer is clearly not to pour out the baby with the bath water, but to make sure that a potentially tricky system is run with integrity.
The events described here are true but we have changed the names because this is not about individuals, but about an initiative to make this town a better place.
It’s not at all surprising that Indigenous people are more frequently checked and have their grog confiscated: the simple reason is that whitefellers mostly don’t live in suburbs where consumption of alcohol is prohibited. We call those suburbs town camps.
All this may change, of course, with Canberra having surrendered to the NT its control over liquor in Aboriginal areas which was part of the Intervention / Stronger Futures. However, no doubt some communities and camps will maintain their grog-free status, having fought for it long before the Intervention was thought of.
POSI confiscations almost always take place at the point of sale, when the police officer, for whatever reason, has not spoken to the purchaser on the way into the bottleshop.
It’s a mystery why there is no system in place for the products to be taken back inside, for a refund, if the police officer thinks the purchase is not kosher.
On February 20 at 7:10pm a woman – we’ll call her Freda – bought alcohol worth $357 and $64 from a supermarket bottleshop: The smaller amount was for herself, and the larger one for a friend – let’s call her Anna – living in a suburban house where the drinking of alcohol is permitted.
Freda is an Aboriginal woman from Alice Springs, who now lives in Queensland but is back home for a visit.
Freda showed the Constable at the bottleshop door her Queensland driver’s licence and explained to him that the alcohol was for a party at the suburban home of Anna where she was about to deliver the sizeable stash.
The Constable took the view that the grog was destined for a town camp, a “declared area,” and he announced that he would confiscate it.
Freda protested, pointing out again her Queensland domicile and giving Anna’s address. Anna, by the way, is the daughter of British immigrants and does not have a drop of Aboriginal blood in her veins.
The Constable now began to exercise his legal powers.
Under Section 95 of the Liquor Act he has the power to seize, without a warrant, a “thing” which he “reasonably believes to be related to a relevant offence”.
The suspected offence was the delivery of the grog to a town camp.
The issue clearly turns on the word “reasonable” which the Act does not define.
We asked a senior police officer what kind of “reasonable” circumstances led the Constable to believe Freda was up to no good.
The Superintendent listed the following facts, stored in the police database and accessible to the Constable on his tablet: In 2014 and 2015 Freda was a “person of interest” and subject of an “alert” suspecting her of bringing grog to a prohibited area.
In neither case were charges laid, let alone convictions obtained.
And two days before the grog purchase Freda gave police with a witness statement about a fracas in a town camp, where her mother lives, and where a man had threatened to firebomb a house.
These facts, according to the Superintendent, were clear proof that Freda had a link with the town camp, and it was “reasonable” for the Constable to assume she would be taking the grog there.
In the end the police destroyed the larger quantity, which Freda told them belonged to Anna, and returned the smaller amount to Freda. Go figure!
The Superintendent told us that both women have the opportunity of lodging a complaint, to the police or the Ombudsman, and if found to have been in error, the cops may have to pay restitution.
It seems a lot of hoops to jump through for someone buying drinks for a party in a place where, by the Chief Minister’s own assertion, alcohol is part of the culture.
A police patrol drove past Anna’s home on the day of the confiscation to see if there was a party. Not surprisingly there wasn’t.


  1. When I buy alcohol, in small or large quantities, the officer on duty does not ask me where I live and if my friends are Aborigines from the suburbs “town camps” coming to my home for a drink or a party.

  2. As a business owner, located next to a bottle shop, the police presence has been a massive benefit. There has been a huge reduction in issues around the area and this has a positive effect on the whole area.
    I have also taken the time to speak to police on the beat and they are largely supportive.
    One in particular noted in reply to my comment that it wasn’t the most exciting part of his job, that he could now get home at a reasonable time in the evening, rather than being up late writing reports.

  3. @ Paul Darvodelsky: I am certain that the police presence has an excellent result, but what I query is the racial discrimination: I have a couple of friends, she is European he is Aborigine black.
    He has being educated by white people, he works and they live in an excellent suburb of Alice Springs. They go shopping together, but when it comes to alcohol, he stays in the car and she goes to the bottle shop to avoid questions, discrimination and embarrassment.
    Put back the alcohol register and not only we will all be on the same level, but our hard working police will be able to do a more useful “exciting” job.

  4. At the last election I supported the idea of the police outside the bottleshops and doing away with the BDR system, as I thought the BDR was giving Alice a bad look for tourists.
    I still support the police, but I would now want the BDR brought back in also to remove the “racist” tags being given to the police who are just there doing their job.
    Those who go to the bottleshops have all seen the police position themselves to see what is being bought by customers and stopping them after the purchase if they are Aboriginal and buying Chardonnay, VB etc.
    Final point, overheard a police officer tell someone “you are not allowed to buy Alcohol for someone else”.
    There goes me buying my employer or anyone else a bottle of something at Christmas time as a present. So what is it then? Can we or can’t we?


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