Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Life On Mars

There ain't nothing like the real thing

Life on Mars is a TV cop series due to end tonight. I have to say I haven't actually watched it, but judging by the amount of BBC puffing, it's been rather more successful than most of their offerings.

It's a 70s Sweeney nostalgia fest, harking back to the days when the cops actually spent their time chasing bad guys, and then smacking them about a bit. In these days of surging lawlessness, no wonder that idea has appeal. Who wouldn't want to see Regan and Carter back on the streets, when violent crime is so much worse than it was when they hung up their truncheons. Robbery alone is up seven times since 1980.

(Yes, yes, we know the BBC only felt able to make LoM because it includes large dollops of PC post-modernist irony. But come on- we can all see why people really like it- see this blog for our own wallow in those golden Sweeney memories).

These days of course, things are very different. And the cops spend their time doing very different things.

To start with, they spend as little time as possible out on those dangerous streets. Just last month we learned that only one in 58 officers is actually out on patrol at any one time. Or around four per town of 90,000 people.

Can you believe that? Despite now having a record number of police- 143,000 in England and Wales- at any one time, only 2,400 are out patrolling to keep us safe. The other 140,600 are either doing paperwork, taking a refreshment break, or off work for one reason or another (police sickies are notorious, and should really have an entire cop show devoted exclusively to them).

Then even when they are out and about, instead of chasing muggers, blaggers, and other traditional villains, they go after "criminals" most of us never even knew existed:

Item- In Burnham on Sea, two police officers confronted a boy of five playing hopscotch with his friends. The officers ordered the children to stop because chalking the grids on the road in their quiet cul-de-sac was "graffiti". The call was logged as alleged criminal damage, and Avon and Somerset police explained they were prioritising "anti-social behaviour". So far no charges have been pressed.

Item- In Bold Heath, Cheshire, two police officers called round to question a ten-year old boy for allegedly calling a schoolfriend "gay" in an e-mail. Inspector Nick Bailey, of Cheshire Constabulary, said: ''We were obliged to record the matter as a crime. Going to the boy's house was a reasonable course of action to take. The use of the word gay would imply this is homophobic.'

Item- In Thackthwaite, near Penrith, Cumbria, two police officers called round to question retired professional couple Mr and Mrs Harrow to investigate claims of squirrel abuse. It followed an obviously spoof letter to a local paper, but the officers reckoned "they had come to check whether hapless rodents were being kept in crates."

Every year we spend £30bn on Public Order and Safety. Or £1200 per household.

Do you think Jack Regan is up there on Mars laughing at us?


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