Teenagers at a party

Queensland Police Don’t Dig ABBA

Picture this: a group of 13 and 14-year-old girls dressed in 70 and 80s gear are bopping on a Brisbane verandah last Saturday night when they get a surprise visit.

It’s two officers in police uniform. No, it’s not the Village People. It’s the Queensland Police Service on noise patrol, just before 8pm in inner Brisbane on a Saturday.

They demand the homeowner produce 100 points of identification and decline his request to discuss the complaint away from the girls who can’t help but stare at the interruption to their wonderful and innocent teenage night out.

There’s no boys. No alcohol. No drugs. No swearing. No fighting. No hooning. Not a single smashed glass.

There’s certainly sugar. Lollies. Cake. Soft drink. Along with party pies and pizza. And enough Abba to make their mothers smile.

Pick-up time is only 30 minutes away and after Dancing Queen it’s time for the parents to gather the girls around to sing Happy Birthday and photograph their 14-year-old daughter cutting her cake.

That’s when the two officers arrived and started reading the riot act. They wanted full identification, spent time detailing their ‘lawful instructions’ and their right to enter the property, and warned that the family stereo could be confiscated.

Despite being told parents were about to start picking up their children, they threatened to issue a noise abatement order.

What? This is 8pm on a Saturday night at a family home, where parents were in charge. Were there not any more nefarious activities underway in Brisbane? Like, teen boys splashing in a pool? Or toddlers having a food fight?

Perhaps not. As Rebecca Levingston on 612 ABC Brisbane revealed this week police also crashed a nine-year-old’s birthday celebration at the weekend.

In this case, the girls were on a Brisbane State High School oval that backed onto the family home. Watched by the birthday girl’s father, the partygoers had their first brush with the law. A police officer told them they were forbidden from playing on the oval and ordered them home.

What? When did cartwheeling on a wide unused sporting ground or catching yabbies in a creek become a crime for a nine-year-old?

How can either of these weekend incidences be a worthwhile use of police time – especially when police guidelines say more serious issues may prevent them from responding to noise complaints.

How does this encourage community engagement between police and the broader community? And what message does it send a group of teens who are happy to celebrate a birthday by dancing and singing, while their parents watch on?

What a different impression would have been made with a simple request by police officers to turn the karaoke machine down a notch. A smile for the girl who had spent the day helping her parents prepare for her party would have been a piece of gold.

As parents arrived to collect their girls, it wasn’t only ABBA that prompted reminiscing between generations, some of whom remembered the fears of their youth that Queensland might become a police state. The long arm and heavy hand of our police service made sure of that.

The recovery of the reputation of police around the country has been one of the miracle stories of the past few decades. Hard work at all ranks has lifted trust in the police services while trust in almost every other profession has declined.

But retaining trust means being taken seriously. Busting karaoke and cartwheeling parties is hardly a means to be taken seriously. Quite the opposite.

The police involved needed to add common sense to the battery of weapons they now carry on their belts.

Photograph of Madonna King

Madonna King is a leading journalist and commentator. An award-winning presenter of 612 ABC Brisbane, she has authored 12 books and now works across radio, television and online.

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