IF you’re one of those people who have recently been
griping about Vancouver-area police, or complaining about the escalating costs
of security for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, you’ll be pleased to learn that
addressing those problems is going to be a breeze.
All we need to do is follow the British example and stock up now on what they’re calling “cardboard constables” -- life-size replicas of police officers. Hello, savings!
In the U.K., these doppelcoppers are positioned strategically to trick bad guys into thinking there’s a “capable guardian” on site, and thereby eliminate the public’s fear of crime.
So far, 13 forces in England and Wales have said “Yes, guvna” to the scheme that provides them with petrified paper police. West Midlands has purchased 80 bogus bobbies, costing about 10,000 pounds ($17,800 CDN).
Essex, on the other hand, brought in a paltry eight of the faux flatfeet. Their chief role in that county is to lurk around gas stations so drivers will stop peeling away without paying for petrol.
Those are the kinds of lightweight jobs the stand-ins generally get, as visual deterrents to thieves and shoplifters. Few of Great Britain’s pretend police are faced with anything as heinous as the stapler notoriously brandished at our own RCMP. Still, it seems England’s fake force rivals Vancouver’s real ones for bravery, common sense and indefatigable commitment.
In Avon and Somerset, some of the cut-outs personify specific local officers, complete with their distinctive tattoos. In those particular communities, cardboard policemen aren’t being used as metaphorical scarecrows, but as metaphorical fishing lures. They’re meant to help draw local citizens, in hopes that they will eventually feel comfortable with the flesh-and-blood version of the police. Apparently, nothing says “approachable” like a cardboard replica -- unless you’re in the West Midlands, in which case a cardboard replica says “Go away.”
Though this new brand of policing is obviously money well spent, there are complainers. The Campaign Director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, for instance, explained to the Daily Telegraph that “Cardboard cut-outs are no substitute for actual policing. No cut-out, to my knowledge, has ever slapped handcuffs on a criminal.”
We Lower Mainlanders might point out that no cardboard cut-out has tasered a weary traveler to death, shot a rowdy teenager, killed someone while driving drunk, or beaten up a newspaper deliveryman for a few hundred dollars, either. To our minds, that’s a plus.
We could also inform the Campaign Director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance that if we bought Vancouver versions of these ostensible officers, they might actually serve as a deterrent to the scumbags in our warring gangs. Our 3-D fuzz has had no effect on gang violence whatsoever. That hardly bodes well for our regional officers’ competence when it comes to 2010 security.
Why can’t we steal a page from the New Zealand roadwork contractor who bought and put up a life-size replica of a police car to convince drivers to slow down and spare a few of his workers’ lives? With the drivers suddenly afraid of getting tickets, it worked. Your average Vancouver gang member can’t be any smarter than your average New Zealand driver. And if murderous thugs don’t get sucked in by the ruse, maybe the street racers will.
As a humour writer, I’d naturally like to see us get our own counterfeit Mounties. English newspapers like the Daily Mail have had a comic field day and I’m just plain jealous. The Mail headlined its news story on the subject “The very thin blue line.” It ran its photograph, of a cardboard copper standing guard in a thrift shop, above the cheeky caption “‘I wasn’t cut out for this sort of work.’”
Admittedly, the idea may not sit well with B.C. taxpayers. Even among Britons, reaction to the concept of paper tigers filling in for the real thing has been mixed. “(It’s) a case of spot the difference,” John from Chichester wrote sardonically.
“With pubs going under at an alarming rate, I think this is a good idea,” typed the irreverent Derek Church of Sussex. “People will have something to throw their redundant darts at again.”
There are union concerns, as well. The vice-chairman of the Police Federation felt it necessary to point out these worries to the Daily Telegraph, saying, “While I appreciate that money may be tight for policing, this does seem a drastic solution to avoid paying any salary and pension costs.”
Drastic, shmastic. Vancouver needs to put a plan in place, pronto. Still, I wouldn’t advise posting replicas of the RCMP or Vancouver Police, per se. We’d be better off using images that local residents respect and admire. Luckily, there are lots of sites on which we can cruise for better choices. You can actually find two-dimensional versions of countless cultural icons online, ranging from Harry Potter’s sidekicks to Barack and Michelle Obama.
A whirl around the available options suggests a few ideal stand-ins, which should be re-outfitted in highly visible RCMP serge or Vancouver Police blues for the requisite intimidation factor. Snow White’s dwarves Sleepy and Grumpy, for instance, might remind the would-be offender of the “good cop, bad cop” shtick that could eventually confront him. Princess Leia, glaring out from under the flat brim of her Mountie hat, could discourage theft in the suburban video arcades and comic book shops patronized by her acolytes. A cheerful, sloshed-looking Dean Martin could “patrol” the bar district without landing any punches, while a jodhpur-ed, high-booted Liberace would serve as a friendly warning for those seeking to make trouble in the West End. No doubt the Vancouver Police could commission a replica of actor Nicholas Campbell and his Da Vinci’s Inquest cohort, in their regular low-key costumes, to temper shenanigans in the Downtown Eastside.
This will surely bring about a change in the levels of violence citywide. For one thing, criminals will no longer need guns to lash out at their flat-footed, flat-bodied oppressors, just matchbooks or magic markers. Drawing a moustache on Dean Martin could become the new obsession of Lower Mainland evildoers. Truly vicious criminals might go so far as to attack Grumpy with a pushpin.
Admittedly, we do run certain risks with this idea. Last November one fearless thief stole the cardboard officer itself from a Tesco supermarket in Grimsby, England. But I ask you, isn’t that preferable to taking a living, breathing police officer off our Lower Mainland streets?
Oh, right -- I see what you mean. Not necessarily.