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Tonga cracks down on booze abuse

Tuesday 9 August 2016 | Published in Regional

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250 arrested so far in ‘Operation Safe Streets’

TONGA – Another 113 people have been arrested this week and charged with drinking in public places, drink driving and disorderly conduct in the second weekend of a major police operation in Tonga.

The campaign known as ‘Operation Safe Streets’ has so far arrested a total of 250 people.

Matangi Tonga reports that last weekend 137 arrests were made at the start of the operation, which is a police response to the increasing number of road fatalities and violent attacks in Tongatapu in recent weeks.

The accused were all expected to appear at the Magistrate’s Court yesterday to face trheir charges.

The operation includes car patrol and police check points in areas where alcohol-fuelled crime is a problem, particularly in Nuku’alofa including the Central Business District, waterfront and Sopu area.

The police commissioner Stephen Caldwell said the force will continue their strong enforcement of the law, targeting drunken behaviour and people drinking alcohol and driving.

“The arrests signify a zero tolerance to bad behaviour. This operation is about preventing crime and protecting the public – and it will continue.”

Police confirmed there were no road fatalities over the weekend in Tongatapu.

Two weekends ago police launched ‘Operation Safe Streets’ after a surge in fatal car crashes and criminal activity blamed on alcohol abuse.

In the first weekend 137 arrests were made – more than double the typical number of weekend arrests on the main island of Tongatapu.

Deputy Commissioner Pelenatita Fe’ao Vaisuai, who is in charge of community policing, explained to Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific just how bad the situation had become.

“Comparing road deaths this year which has reached 12 to the figure of last year. For the whole year last year there was only eight – that is one factor. And the rise in serious crime being committed was another.

She said the in the majority of those road deaths alcohol was identified as a contributing factor.

“From two incidents for example, six lives were lost. The driver of the vehicle, of both vehicles proved to have alcohol before or while they were driving.”

She said the recent escalation in drink driving could be attributed to the ease of access to alcohol.

“And of course alcohol related behaviour is not just a police issue but it is a social issue. The police is doing there part of it at the same time and of course trying to get the community involved as well.

“The messages from the police are clear. That we are not going to tolerate. That there is a zero tolerance in any disorderly behaviour to alcohol.”

She said issues of alcohol abuse can only be overcome with commitment from the community.

“And hopefully the members of the public would take this seriously about their lives. About the life of their young ones. They are responsible first for their safety and like I referred to before alcohol being a social issue it is a long way and police alone cannot handle the issue on their own.

“It will need that community stake-holder approach of course.” - PNC sources