Overzealous policing

Weekly Bang-e-Sahar Saturday,June 28—-July 4, 2008
By Thomas Sutcliffe
THE difference between a police state and a well policed one is notoriously blurry and itself requires careful policing. It’s all too easy for the pursuit of the latter to edge, slowly and almost imperceptibly, into the creation of the former. But there are times when it’s worth remembering that there is actually a difference – and that a well-policed state has quite a lot of things going for it.
Another way of putting this would be to say that an ingrained wariness of a police state – laudable in most circumstances – can occasionally turn into a kneejerk neurosis which isn’t useful at all. A case in point might be the recent letter from the chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Simon Milton, warning councils not to get overzealous in applying the powers they now have under anti-terrorist legislation in pursuit of minor misdemeanours.
The fact that Wyre Council in Lancashire had used hidden cameras to catch people letting their dogs foul the pavement and that other councils have used surveillance to tackle litterbugs was called in evidence, in some reports, to support the idea that a kind of mission-creep was taking place.
The powers had been brought in to deal with Al Qaeda cells in British suburbs but, before you knew it, flak-jacketed jobsworths would be conducting stealth raids on your recycling bins to make sure that you hadn’t mixed plastic with paper. The estimable director of Liberty, Shami Chak-rabarti, (no sarcasm intended) called for a change in the law to ensure that powers were aimed only “at serious crime”.
I really can’t see why myself, since relatively few of us are troubled by serious crime while trivial forms of anti-social behaviour are a daily nuisance. And there are several flaws in the argument that sees a technologically-supported dog-fouling fine as somehow falling into the same category as 42-day detention.
The first flaw is the implicit suggestion that allowing one’s dog to deposit coils of ordure on the public pavement is some kind of human right. It isn’t. The second flaw is the implication that it is somehow improper for councils to attempt to enforce these more trivial laws when they suddenly find they have the means available. It seems odd to fret so much about the civil liberties of people who have no concept of mutual civility themselves. Provided that real terrorists aren’t being left untroubled because council officials are too busy checking up on motorists misusing disabled parking stickers, I really can’t see the problem in them getting a bit cloak-and-dagger to catch the creeps.
And none of these cases should really be discussed in the same breath as 42-day detention – a change to the law which, because it is more abstract and likely to exert its injustice on very few us – is harder to present as a genuine danger. But that’s where the threat lies – not with the possibility that irresponsible dog owners might be inhibited from paving the streets with crap.
It’s time to revive a TV classic. Intriguing to see that the BBC are planning to screen film adaptations of stage plays by David Hare and Caryl Churchill – with Uma Thurman, pictured, no doubt drumming up plenty of attention for Hare’s My Zinc Bed by taking on a lead role.
One can only hope that it’s the beginning of a trend for one-off drama, which has been an endangered species in recent years. I doubt that the BBC has the title under copyright – and at a stroke it would annoy his rivals, restore a bit of lustre to his channel, and – who knows – possibly improve his audience figures too.
My Obamania has been in remission recently – the unbearable itchy inflammation caused by the later stages of the Democratic primaries having vanished almost overnight after Hillary’s withdrawal.
Barack Obama’s decision to go back on an early promise about campaign funding has left an odd kind of after-taste in the Kool-Aid recently, but I know I’m not in the clear because of the defensive reflex I felt when I saw a report on a new poll which showed that more than half of white voters agreed with the statement that Obama would be a risky choice.
This was conveyed as if it was a straightforwardly worrying finding for the Obama campaign, which seemed to me to miss the point. An election is very often a kind of gamble on unknown quantities, and the electorate doesn’t always play the odds in the same way. I would still bet that this is a year in which the punters want a bit more risk in their lives, not less.- © The Independent

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