Cardboard cops useful but no substitute for real thing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2012, 11:51pm

Speeding is an offence whose severity has often been overlooked. Those behind the wheel do not feel they are jeopardising their life and others' when they step on the pedal. Sadly, sometimes they realise the truth too late. Last year more than 4,700 people were injured or died in 3,600 traffic accidents in Hong Kong, some of which were no doubt caused by speeding.

Our police see the need to introduce more innovative measures to keep drivers within the law. Since Thursday, two life-size figures made from cardboard and aluminium alloy, one pointing with a laser gun for speed detection and the other with a clipboard, have been placed along highways at random to help slow down vehicles.

The use of cut-out figures for crime prevention has become increasingly popular around the world. The Hong Kong police first adopted this strategy to deter shoplifting in the early 1990s. Initial reactions to the fake traffic-police officers have been mixed. As shown during a police demonstration to the media, some speedy drivers were apparently scared off and slowed down. Critics even warned that a sudden slowdown may cause traffic accidents. But others believe they are just gimmicks. The deterrent effect, they believed, would soon wear off.

The divergent views are hardly surprising. Elsewhere, the effectiveness of using cut-out figures for crime prevention is also inconclusive. In Romania, for instance, cardboard traffic officers are such a success that the authorities have expanded it to include police vehicles. But the British experience is different. The police in Essex had to remove the models in petrol stations and supermarkets two years ago because they were deemed to have little impact on crime.

We do not doubt the presence of a pair of watchful eyes, whether real or not, may put off some would-be criminals. But cardboard cut-outs are no substitute for actual policing. Under no circumstances should officers shirk and leave the job to their cardboard counterparts. The police should carefully review the effectiveness before considering expanding their use.