Captain Good shames the lowlife maggots

America/ criminals pilloried on TV
Click to follow
THE POLICE officer on the television screen brings menace to the act of taking off his glasses. Elbow on desk, he leans forward, jabs a finger at the camera and snarls: "You're a toilet-licking maggot. You're a low-life scum. You're out there and we're gonna get you. You're absolutely the lowest creature on the face of the earth!"

Standard fare, this, for regular viewers of TCI, the local cable channel of Taunton, a blue-collar town of 51,000 half an hour south of Boston. The show is Taunton Crime Watch. The star is Captain Richard Pimental, chief of community policing at the Taunton Police Department. Capt Pimental records the programme twice a month and, such is the demand, TCI airs it six times a fortnight.

The toilet-licking maggot in question was a criminal wanted for robbing, assaulting and attempting to rape a handicapped woman of 90. The phrase became a hit among local schoolchildren, prompting a complaint from two teachers. But Capt Pimental was unrepentant. "It fits the guy to a T," he replied.

He makes no apologies either for employing shame as his main instrument of crime deterrence. On the programme he displays colour pictures of freshly arrested suspects, announces their names, and describes them variously as hairballs, dirtballs, scumballs, lowlifes, cruds, sleazebags, punks, creeps, degenerates and two-legged vipers.

"They call me Captain Good," he said at his office on Friday. "I'm a crime-fighter. I talk about good. I'm with the truth. I'm with the victim. The constitution says defendants have rights, but I say the victim has more rights. The victim has the right to feel protected."

Captain Good drives what he calls a Goodmobile - a converted ambulance he takes on visits to schools and community halls loaded with anti-crime pamphlets, drug and weapon exhibits, two boxes of teddy bears and a bag of plastic badges with the insignia of the US eagle cresting the words "Junior Police".

"I give them a badge and say, 'Now you're an agent of the Posse of Good.' I've given out more than 9,000 badges. The youngest posse member is six weeks old, the oldest 89," he says.

The Taunton Daily Gazette calls him a cult hero. The director of programming at TCI, Loren Carpenter, says he is the most popular man in town. "You walk down the street with Captain Good and 90 per cent of the people recognise him."

They've even written a song about him. It goes: "Captain Good, Captain Good, we need you here to stay. Captain Good, Captain Good, lowlife people now you're gonna pay."

In the cramped office he shares with two other officers, Capt Pimental finds space for a large Stars and Stripes. Framed awards, photographs of his family and deadly weapons seized from local schools line the walls.

"I'm doing this TV show because I believe the public have a right to know who the bad guys are. My whole philosophy is based on the oath I took 29 years ago 'to serve and protect'. The best way to do this is in a partnership between police and community, working together to put the bad guys on notice we represent a society that's fed up."

"I do talk about low-life degenerates. I do talk about the maggot patrol, those scumballs who break into cars and steal radios, who burgle. I have my Punk of the Week, the guys who attack old ladies. A few people object. They say I'm convicting without a court trial. My answer is I'm showing the people of my community who the people are who are beating, assaulting, dealing in drugs, in cons.

"With johns [clients] and prostitutes, I show both on the TV. After I've shown a john's picture once I never have him again on my programme. There could be some initial embarrassment, but in the long run I could be saving someone from something worse, like Aids or some other disease they could spread to their families." Testament to the effect that Captain Pimental's TV career has had on local criminals was provided by a large plainclothes policeman who walked into his office during the interview. "The people I arrest say, 'No, man, don't take my picture. I don't want to appear on Pimental's show,' " said Officer Matthew McCaffrey, whose beat is Taunton's roughest neighbourhood. "They don't like it because their families see them and they're embarrassed."

The effect on Taunton's crime statistics has been dramatic. Between 1985 and 1993 when the Crime Watch series began, the figures went up every year. In 1994, the crime rate went down by 11 per cent.

A small minority of residents object to Capt Pimental's modern adaptation of the medieval stocks, or "virtual pillory", as someone called it. He dismisses them as "ultra-liberals".

A keen advocate of the death penalty, he has struck a national chord at a time when conservatism is in, when politicians have found that the message that resonates loudest is the one that decries society's moral decay. Shame, stigma, retribution: these are the ideas in vogue.

The clamour is for a return to America's rose-tinted past, to a world part Hollywood myth, part historical legend, where justice is stern and values are apple pie. Batman, Dirty Harry, Elliot Ness and Wyatt Earp all rolled into one, Captain Good is an icon for the age.

He is in the mainstream of a national trend otherwise manifested in Maryland, where a 16-year-old boy in a juvenile detention centre for sexually molesting his nine-year-old sister was only released after he had gone down on his knees to her and said sorry; in Tennessee, where a judge personally whips young offenders, after obtaining their parents' permission first; in Alabama, where the chain-gang has been reintroduced; in La Mesa, California, where billboards on the streets say "Attention johns. We take pictures", and the pictures are published in the local press.

As if speaking for a nation, as if coining a slogan for late-20th century America, Capt Pimental says on his television show: "You. Lowlife. You're the enemy. If you're going to go out there and break the law, if you're going out there and hurt people, you're gonna have to deal with Captain Good."

'Here's a message, you faceless coward - we're gonna get you!'

Here's a message to you, you degenerate vermin, breaking into people's homes at night when people are sleeping. It's the last time, my friend: you degenerate, lowlife dregs of the earth, you faceless coward. We're gonna get you!

She gave the police officer and the store clerk a hard time. 'I'm not stealing,' she insists. 'I'm pregnant.' Then, lo and behold! A miracle! Her pantyhose bursts and she gives birth - to $400 worth of clothing!

Now take a good look at Mr Taylor [holding up a photograph of a man arrested for soliciting a prostitute]. For the measly sum of $20, he is going to bring disease, maybe even death, home to his family.

Lisa, let me tell you, we have a warrant for your arrest. We're charging you as a common night-walker. We know you boogie. That's all right: we know who you are. You're a frequent flyer.

Today is Friday the 13th and today is the day we wanna make a bad day for the bad boys.

Some snail took a religious statue from a church. Well, I hope when you go up there on Judgement Day and they see your dockets, they'll send you right down there where you belong!