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SH35 checkpoints: Roadside stops continuing ‘with a difference’

Roadside checkpoints along the East Coast highway will continue throughout the Covid-19 Alert Level 3 response, but with a difference.

Shortly after Level 4 was announced in March, checkpoints were set up at locations on State Highway 35 to protect vulnerable coastal communities from the spread of coronavirus Covid-19.

Police are now helping take the pressure off volunteers.

“The police came on board in the last two days of Level 4”, checkpoint co-organiser Tina Ngata said.

“We have a fantastic relationship with the police and it’s been effective. Their presence has exposed a lot of drug-related activity. We’re looking at minimising the Covid-19 threat by minimising drug- related issues.”

Last month Ms Ngata voiced the concern that methamphetamine-trafficker contact with people outside the region and the exchange of drugs and money increases the risk of transmission of Covid-19 into coastal communities and Gisborne city.

Under Level 3, volunteers and police have encountered several attempts by drivers from other regions to make their way up the East Coast.

“Some have legitimate travel requirements but a lot are not legitimate and they know it. They just wanted to give it a try. Some weren’t aware of Level 3 restrictions, and to be fair there are a lot of grey areas.

“There is still a lot of education going on.”

Education followed by a warning are among steps police take before they make an arrest.

People’s response to the checkpoints had been positive overall, Ms Ngata said.

“The majority are really lovely. Out of the thousands of people we have seen I could count on one hand the number who haven’t been lovely. A couple have been belligerent but it turns out they had something to hide.”

The new Police Commissioner came under fire yesterday for defending community checkpoints.

Andrew Coster told MPs there was “nothing unlawful” about police-supervised roadblocks.

Coster faced a grilling before Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee yesterday, which saw a fiery exchange about police’s tolerance of the checkpoints.

Opposition leader and committee chairman Simon Bridges repeatedly asked why police had not shut the checkpoints down.

“There is no scenario, and it is Law School 101, where a member of the community is acting lawfully by stopping another Kiwi on a road in New Zealand,” said Bridges, who was Crown prosecutor before becoming an MP.

It is illegal for any member of the public to stop another New Zealander from using a public road. But police can.

Coster said police had worked alongside the community checkpoints to ensure they were lawful.

Having a small police presence at the checkpoints acknowledged the particular vulnerabilities the communities had felt, he said.

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