It’s 5:55 a.m. New Year’s Day. Not that many people remain locked up in the harshly lit concrete bowels of the Victoria police station.
A tiny wisp of a 19-year-old girl in a tiny wisp of a black dress is sleeping it off in one of the cells. They found her getting sick in a Broad Street parking lot, all alone, totally defenceless against the near-freezing chill and the 2 a.m. predators. Where were her friends?
In a nearby cell is another 19-year-old, picked up staggering down Lotus Street with half a mickey of Fireball, two big bottles of cider and a mostly empty six-pack of eight-per-cent beer.
Then there’s a lanky 20-year-old who, while blasted on booze and mushrooms, smashed the window of a downtown business — right in front of the cops. He was belligerent at the station, fired a phone across the room instead of calling a lawyer. He got the padded cell until he settled down.
Also arrested were a 24-year-old man who beat another man unconscious in the 900 block of Douglas, a woman who threw up all night after a raucous break-up in a bar, a driver who blew three times the legal limit, two guys booked for domestic assaults. ... A total of 19 people, every one of them hammered, spent the first hours of 2013 in cells on a night that kept Victoria police hopping with a steady stream of drunks, fights and domestics. In other words: A remarkably quiet New Year’s.
Police say it wasn’t as busy as anticipated, not much crazier than a hot summer night. The communications centre fielded 105 calls — the same as a busy day shift — including those from slurred voices dialling 9-1-1 to complain they couldn’t get through to the cab companies.
Certainly, it was less wild than the Canada Day gong show, when 60 to 80 people typically find themselves stuffed into the VicPD and courthouse cells. The courthouse lock-up used to be opened for the overflow New Year’s Eve crowd, too, but the demand is no longer there, not on a Monday night, anyway.
Which leads to the question: Has New Year’s Eve gone a bit tame?
“I think people’s attitudes have changed a lot, even compared to five or 10 years ago,” said Sgt. Rob Sorenson, down in the cells. “I don’t think people party like they used to.”
Tighter drinking-driving laws have altered behaviour. So has Victoria’s greying demographic; the generation that really used to see New Year’s Eve as the time to dress up and dance with lampshades on their heads has lost the urge to do so. For some, Halloween has become the bigger party night, a holiday once devoted to kids hijacked by adults dressed in scantily clad fantasies.
An Ipsos poll done for Reuters News found a third of Canadian adults planned to stay home this New Year’s, with those asleep by midnight (11 per cent) outnumbering those celebrating at a restaurant (seven per cent). The Telegraph newspaper reported a big jump in the number of Britons planning to shun New Year’s celebrations, with four in 10 saying they would go to bed at the normal hour.
It’s not as though we have turned into a society of teetotalers — alcohol-consumption stats belie that — but the casualty count is down.
A jail cell — narrow enough that you can touch both side walls with arms stretched, just long enough to stretch out on the hard bench, no furnishings except a stainless steel combination sink and toilet — is a lousy place to start the year. By 7 a.m., the occupants are being kicked loose. The teen picked up on Lotus Street is red-faced, apologetic. The guy who smashed the window can’t remember doing so, is fretting about getting a criminal record. The 19-year-old in the little black dress looks shaky as a foal; given her vulnerability, spending the night in a cell might have been the best thing that could have happened to her.
It should remind some of us of our own 19-year-old follies, how lucky we were to escape unscathed, ready for a fresh start in a new year.
© Copyright 2013