Christchurch now has the unenviable reputation at home and abroad for being the city of motorised hoons aka boy racers.
One possible part solution to this problem which has not been discussed much in the media is the role of the public.
The swarming behaviour of often noisy cars is made possible not just by cheap imported cars, often modified not to enhance performance but to maximise nuisance value, but by mobile communications, especially texting. The community needs to respond using the same enabling technology.
Many examples of hoonish driving, annoying though they are, do not warrant a call to the police emergency number. However, they should not go unreported. The question is what happens when they are reported.
There has been for some time a non-urgent cell phone number (*555) for traffic offences. But this appears in most cases to lead to miscreants receiving a tut tutting letter several days or weeks later about their driving behaviour and nothing more. Unless a personal visit is made to a police station by a complainant it appears that no charges will be laid. This process is cumbersome and time-consuming for all concerned.
The process needs to be augmented, if not replaced, by a system of information sharing by members of the public which allows the police to be proactive as well as reactive. The key is to use the right pattern recognizing technology to form profiles of selected cars and drivers more easily and quickly.
What is needed is to enlist the aid of citizens to report infractions using a simple text taxonomy graded from minor to major:
- noisy exhausts
- inconsiderate driving
- dangerous driving
- static assemblies
- mobile convoys
- threatening behaviour
- mob violence
Obviously, plate numbers and other information would be added by the person reporting. Date and approximate times would be recorded automatically. The message might be as simple as
*555 AB123 #8. [2.15 a.m. 14/2/09]
Particular offences may well go unpunished but at the higher end of the scale police resources could be mobilised more quickly and at the lower end of the scale the authorities will be able to put pressure on those vehicles and drivers who appear most in the profiles. Data matching would determine which drivers had unpaid fines and previous traffic and other convictions and which cars were unlicensed. A good many, but of course not all, drivers may well respond at least temporarily to the knowledge that they are on a watchlist.
Neighbourhood watch organisations and other local groups and concerned citizens could be enlisted to use the system. Texting, with the appropriate electronic triaging, will take pressure off the phone operated emergency and non-emergency police services and provide a continuous stream of information as a packs of hoons swarm. Cell phone photographs and video clips and better quality video footage could be forwarded to an intelligence centre staffed partly by volunteers, especially computer savvy retirees.
It seems that the police already scan Bebo, Facebook and other social networking site to pick up evidence of traffic and other crimes. The community needs to be mobilised and enabled to provide useful information in an accessible format both via the *555 system and also, where appropriate, on a designated citizen’s website accessed live or later by the police.
A new rule of thumb is required if we are to reclaim our streets in the face of escalating anti-social behaviour on wheels. But first we need to extract our digits.