Beat me gently

Police officers across the globe face increasingly wretched terrestrial existences as they frantically try to do more, better, with less. Now it appears that they may be punished in the afterlife for trying to reach demanding performance targets set here on Earth.

Nov 22, 2017

Police officers across the globe face increasingly wretched terrestrial existences as they frantically try to do more, better, with less. Now it appears that they may be punished in the afterlife for trying to reach demanding performance targets set here on Earth. At a recent meeting with traffic police officers in Italy, Pope Francis spoke of an “increasingly complex and tumultuous” situation on the roads, and criticised lifestyles of “haste and a competitiveness” that have caused people to view other drivers “as obstacles or adversaries to be overtaken, transforming the streets into Formula One tracks”. He went on to criticise the use of mobile phones while driving, highlighting “the limited sense of responsibility of many drivers, who often do not seem to realise the serious consequences of their distraction…” So far so good, but just as it seemed that he might blast a few erring motorists with thunderbolts and lightning he instead placed the responsibility firmly on the shoulders of the poor officers, and urged them to show mercy towards those who break the rules of the road. He claimed that “mercy is not a sign of weakness…nor does it require giving up the use of force”. It doesn’t? Is he suggesting that traffic officers refrain from issuing tickets to speeding motorists, and should beat them up instead? Pope Francis then suggested that police officers seek to understand the reasons why people commit offences, although he did not explain why. With respect, he does not know what he is starting here. The pro forma (note the immaculate use of Latin) associated with traffic policing is complicated enough without going into stuff like reasons. I do not know if the Italian police have the equivalent of police and crime commissioners, I hope not, for their sakes. But do we really need another (higher) authority interfering with policing? Andrew Mitchell’s attempts to rewrite cycling laws for Great Britain (often referred to as ‘Plebgate’) are a good example of what happens when alternative powers try to reorganise the ways in which traffic is regulated. I am in any case unconvinced that the Pope is truly neutral in this matter. As recently as last week he blessed a sports car that had been given to him as a gift. A Vatican spokesperson claims that it is being auctioned for charity, but has not said when. It would be shame to let it go before phoning a few bishops while zooming down the Autostrade. The poor Italian traffic police are now in a quandary, if they apply the law too rigorously they are condemned to the eternal fires of Hell. If they do not, then they might get run over, but will be guaranteed a relatively swift passage through the Pearly Gates. While on the subject of who is supposed to be in charge of what, the Essex Police control room has urged West Ham United supporters to stop calling 999 to complain after their team loses. It pointed out that “ringing 999 because West Ham have lost again and you aren`t sure what to do is not acceptable! It is a complete waste of our time”. This is an inadequate response. It is all very well telling the West Ham fans what not to do, but what should they do? One answer would be tell them to phone the Metropolitan Police Service, which still, to the best of my knowledge, covers West Ham’s ground, but what advice would its operators give? We really need to get a grip on this phenomenon before it spreads. Liverpool FC’s fans are famously drawn from Scandinavia. I have warned the switchboards of the Danish constabularies so they are not overwhelmed when they lose next month’s Merseyside derby. Yours, Stitch

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