What the police officer did next

I saw an extraordinary interaction between a police officer and reveler at the Mountain Sounds Music Festival at Kariong last Saturday. A person was in the middle of taking an ecstasy tablet when a police officer spotted her. The officer walked over to her, took the drug away and gave her a stern warning. It was a beautiful moment.

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The woman I saw was taking a drug at music festival. No doubt she wished to enjoy the event in a euphoric mind-altered state, something quite common for people in their twenties as they search for experiences. It was an illegal act – the purchase, the possession and then the actual taking of the drug – all illegal. Was it wrong? Well some may say it was stupid, and it definitely had the potential to be dangerous (more so because of its illegality) but “wrong” is the wrong word.

Humans have been using drugs since the dawn of time – for energy (coffee, tea and coca leaves) for social interaction (tobacco and alcohol) for creativity (Cannabis), to communicate with gods (magic mushrooms) and for pain relief and medication (opiates). Drugs are as much a part of the human condition as sex and shelter. To call them wrong, or bad or immoral is just wrong. It may be illegal to take many of them for recreational purposes, but so too was homosexuality in New South Wales 30 odd years ago.

The police officer had two choices when she spotted that person taking the ecstasy tablet:

  1. Arrest her, drag her out of the festival and charge her with possession
  2. Confiscate the drug, warn her and let her go on with her day

If the police officer had chosen the first option (which is often the case with the enforcement of drug laws) then the woman would have been dragged out of the festival in public view and greatly embarrassed. She would have had her day ruined. Her friends at the festival would have had their day ruined.

The woman would have been charged with an offence and forced to go to court, hire a lawyer, and potentially have a damaging criminal conviction on her record. She would hate the police. She, and her friends, would see the police as the enemy. Never would they work with them or help them in the future. Everyone involved from the police officer, to the woman, to her frienda, family and the courts – would have a sour taste in their mouth. Justice would not be served by charging this woman for the possession of one ecstasy tablet. Instead a ripple effect of injustice, anger and hatred would permeate out through society.

I don’t blame the police as they are just doing as they are told. However there was another way the police officer could have gone and in this case did that very thing – she took the drug off the woman, gave her a stern warning and let her go.

Thankfully she is not facing court today and does not have to worry about the effect a criminal conviction may have on her career or travel plans. In fact she probably is thinking how lucky she is, how nice the police officer was for giving her a warning. No doubt all her friends have more favourable opinions of the police right now.

And isn’t that what we want – a society where police and the community work together to make society safer and better?

A utopian society would not need police. The community would police itself. A great society is one where the police and community work together to protect each other, ward of dangers within and without and make the society as safe as possible. A great society needs police and young people to respect each other and help each other.

The police officer at Mountain Sounds Music Festival did a lot for that on Saturday.

Miles Hunt is a lawyer and co-founder of Unharm


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