Keys to host responsibility: Step up to save lives

Saturday January 11, 2020 Written by Published in Weekend
Keys to host responsibility: Step up to save lives

In the early hours at the weekend, you can see happy people piling out of bars and nightclubs after downing a few cold beverages. Some will pull the keys to their car or bike from their pocket, to drive home.  They may be making the biggest and worst decision of their lives.


At Cook Islands Fishing Club, the motto among patrons and staff is, “family comes first”.

That’s why club manager Sharon William says it's their top priority to make sure club members and visitors stay safe.

With more than 300 active members and many more guests, the club works with both Cook Islands Police Service and local taxi driver Sam from Mama Ru’s Taxi, to make sure their patrons get home safely. 

As long as the destination is within the club's zone from Matavera to Nikao, the customer need pay only $5 – the club will cover the rest of the taxi fare. If it's out of the zone, taxi driver Sam is more than happy to negotiate.

“At the fishing club, we look out for one another because we are like a big family and that is what a family does,” William says.

William recalled one particular occasion when an intoxicated tourist became angry and aggressive after she took his keys and stopped him from driving. “I gave him two choices: either I call a taxi or I call the police.

“They can’t think straight in that state. They’re not thinking about the other people on the road who could suffer because of their stupidity.”

William admits it’s not easy dealing with intoxicated people who often turn up at the club already visibly drunk and become aggressive, often swearing at her and other bar staff when they are refused service or asked for their keys.

“I say to them they can swear at me all they like, but they can’t swear at me any more if they are dead and buried in a hole,” she says.

“At the end of the day it is against the law and a serious breach of our liquor licence to serve grossly intoxicated people.”  

Most turn up the next day and apologise.

But police are on speed dial and arrive in a heartbeat if they need to, and William and her husband's front yard, across the road, is often filled with parked-up bikes – which makes her happy.

“I'd rather see a lawn full of bikes, then a lifetime of devastation for a family who lost a loved one because they decided to drive drunk.”

* * * * *

HOST responsibility and evidence of proactive approaches from licensed premises to ensure they have initiatives in place is a prerequisite of gaining a liquor licence. 

They are issued by the Liquor Licensing Authority of the Ministry of Transport under the Sale of Liquor Act 1991-1992.

But there are those who operate the bars and nightclubs who are proactively working with the police and other authorities to ensure they are doing all they can to keep their patrons safe.

In terms of law enforcement, police spokesperson Trevor Pitt says police officers do conduct regular checks on the bars and nightclubs and other licensed establishments, including the responsibility of the duty managers.  

“These staff must be on site and be upholding the conditions of the license. That includes monitoring intoxicated patrons and taking appropriate action as to the serving of those patrons,” he says.  

“Breaches would find their way back to the licensing authority and committee.  Such breaches are considered and the committee takes action, including suspension if need be.”

Police are also guided by the current Prevention Operations Model that has recommended more effective use of data on cases, involving alcohol and crashes/fatalities.  

There has been an effort to strengthen the linkages between what information police gain from investigations into offenders and victims, who have been consuming alcohol – the venues and circumstances surrounding that drinking activity.

* * * * *

IT’S NOT only drink-driving that has devastating effects for families that are left behind to pick up the pieces after losing a loved one.

A rise in violence, brawling incidents and disorderly behaviour has seen security measures tightened at local bars and other licensed establishments.

However, a case in 2019 at a private after party where a man was thrown off a balcony has also highlighted the need for more host responsibility to be practiced by those having “afters”.  

Pitt says fingers often get pointed at the bars and nightclubs but there are incidents that do not involve these outlets as well.  

Fatalities have occurred involving victims who have been consuming alcohol at home or work locations, straight after work when the bell goes, he says.  

“Long drinking sessions after work and then getting on a motorbike is a recipe for disaster,” he says.   “Therefore, there is a degree of responsibility on the part of employers, who may be aware that after-work drinking is taking place at certain work sites – and should discourage such behaviour.”

Police consultation other agencies, bars and nightclubs last month, in an effort to prevent and respond to trouble around Rarotonga. They want a cooperative approach to putting in place an effective strategy to cope with incidents, particularly road issues and any violent behaviour, Pitt says. 

Alcohol and overly-intoxicated patrons and drivers will be a significant focus as police remain intensely sensitive to community concerns about safety and security.

“It’s clear to see that responsibility to prevent alcohol abuse is shared and demands a collaborative approach by everyone in the community,” Pitt says.  

Police also want individuals to assume that responsibility for their own actions but also recognise that everyone in the vicinity of someone, who is consuming alcohol – and then gets ready to drive or becomes violent – should do something.  

“There will be a zero tolerance on any fights in public, and bars will be subject to a shutdown if required, to quell violent behaviour.”  

Outlets can also expect more frequent visits by police officers on patrol and a more detailed inspection of the conditions imposed on licensed premises. 

That will include duty manager responsibilities, maintaining the lawful drinking age, and managing intoxicated patrons.

“Family and friends depend on someone stepping in if that person is failing on their own,” he says. 

“Some have tried to intervene but have also failed, which shows that there is always more that we can do as a community.”

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