Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Column, June 10, 2008

IT’S unusual for police officers to speak their mind.
It’s a sad state of affairs, but like so many public servants they seem sworn to some Trappist vow of silence when it comes to expressing an opinion.
Oh sure they’ll reel off facts and statistics and descriptions and warnings to the public, but ask them to comment about stuff like politics and they insist on their right to silence with all the enthusiasm of the petty crooks they question.
And who can blame them, after all they’ve seen so many predecessors sent to the career equivalent of Siberia for giving the merest hint of disapproval of their political masters.
So when one is brave enough to stick his or her head above the parapet it’s probably worth listening to them. You might not agree with them, but give them a hearing because speaking out will have caused them a good deal more pause for thought than, off the top of my head, a blowhard newspaper columnist.
So when Andy Williams, an inspector from Anglesey said that the ne’er-do-wells of his patch fear being banned from the local pubs more than they fear the penalties imposed by the courts, that tells us two things.
Firstly, and really quite encouragingly really, the effectiveness of the Pubwatch scheme. I have to say I’ve often seen the signs behind the bars of the pubs I frequent for the very occasional half a shandy, and I’ve wondered about their effectiveness. But I’m reassured by the picture Insp Williams paints of criminals apparently indifferent to all other punishments, who are reduced to pathetic pleading when threatened with being banned from their local.
Jack Regan never resorted to that in The Sweeney did he, and he missed a trick: “You Slaaag, sign that confession or you’ve had your last pin in the Dog&Duck.”
The other thing that this tells us, and this is a bit more depressing, is that the criminals to whom Insp Williams refers hold the courts in contempt.
Now you have to realise that Insp Williams is coming at this from a certain angle and the yoghurt-knitting, wool-undie-wearing social workers among us might disagree and think that all car thieves need is a good hug. Until, of course, their Citroen 2CVs get nicked and burnt out, when suddenly they get a bit Genghis Khan about the whole thing, wanting to wreak vengeance on the car thief, and the car thief’s children and the car thief’s children’s children and…you get the picture.
But, in the carefully chosen words of Insp Williams, the courts “are bogged down in the politics of the government of today, which I feel has some extremely pressing issues in terms of both prison populations and the balance between punishment and rehabilitation.”
Someone not straightjacketed by a lifetime of public service, like, off the top of my head, a blowhard newspaper columnist, might put it like this: “The courts would like to bang them up, and you and me would like to see them banged up, but we can’t bang them up because the prisons and full and so we have to try and rehabilitate people who don’t wan to be rehabilitated, they just want to carry on nicking.”
What the answer is I don’t know, for a change, but Insp Williams points out the problem of a jail population that;’s bursting at the seams, resulting in a criminal population who don’t take the justice system as seriously as we would like them to.
The problem is the frustration that must cause Insp Williams and his fellow officers who know that we are worried about crime and yet, when they catch a criminal and put them before the courts – and believe me, they do this in the vast majority of crimes, there is no such thing as a criminal mastermind, the phrase ‘thick as thieves’ refers to their intellect as well – the crooks can shrug it off because they know they’ll get a slap on the wrist.
So, do we buold more prisons? Not popular because very few people want one of those in their back yard. Or do we have more punishments that actually mean something to those who commit crime – like pub bans. It might sound facetious, but if the threat of it works and reduces crime then who cares?
And if Richard Brunstrom’s willingness to speak out has filtered down to lower-ranking officers then that can only be a good thing. As I said, you might not agree with all they say, but they are empowered with enforcing the law and it is imprtant that is they are brave enough to express an honest opinion about that, we should listen.
I hope we hear from more officers like Andy Williams.

SO the fuel protests are coming to the A55.
A Facebook group has been set up – the nation quakes – and theur plan is a 20mph go-slow down the A55 from Stanlow to Colwyn Bay.
No doubt the COBRA committee is meeting in Whitehall to discuss ths latest threat to civilisation.
Apparently, the plan is to drive in convoy along the A55 holding everyone up to make the point that fuel is a bit expensive.
Somehow, I’m thinking, it’s goinbg to take a little more than that to get OPEC’s attention, but call me a whinging nay-sayer.
But I’m afraid to say there is one, crucial problem with their protest idea. The speed they’re planning to travel – 20mph on a Friday towards the North Wales coast.
Others who have endured the hell of the A55 on a summer weekend will be laughing as the read this – 20mph, we dreamt of travelling at 20mph, 20 yards an hour more like.
If they manage to get to Colwyn Bay at an average speed of 20mph, do they realise tat they will be carried shoulder-high along the beach by grateful holiday-makers, delighted to have got down the expressway in record time.
They’ll be given the freedom of the borough and hailed as the saviours of the North Wales tourist industry.
Why not walk along the A55 to give your support on the day? But not too fast eh?, You’ll leave them behind.

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