Zero Tolerance: A sure-fire cure for fouling dogs - and fouler commuters

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The Independent Online
The woman solicitor from Cleveland was clearly shocked. Policing in her area, she told the reporter from the Today programme, had become far too tough. Under the zero tolerance regime of Detective Chief Inspector Ray Mallon (I think he's a DCI. Or is that what Helen Mirren was?) constables cracking down on minor felonies had taken to interpreting their orders a little too literally. And yes, she could give plenty of horrifying examples. "One man," she wailed uncomprehendingly, "was CS-sprayed for urinating in the street."

And - along I suspect with a million others - my first reaction was "good". I was glad that this chap urinating in the street had been sprayed. In fact my only worry was that the punishment failed to fit the disgusting crime. It would have been more appropriate had the entire Cleveland police force gone round to this man's flat and relieved themselves on his stair carpet and stereo. But still, a good CS spraying was a start.

I mean it. Readers may recall the incident when a south London car breaker - a verminous wretch if ever there was one - smashed his way into a parked Sierra, and was promptly shot by the IRA gunman who, by unlucky coincidence, had been sleeping on the back seat surrounded by blankets, Semtex and Brownings. For one moment many of us saw the attractions of summary justice, and wondered whether we couldn't find alternative employment for the odd Volunteer when the Troubles finally came to an end. A couple of shootings, and the cars in your street would be safe for a generation. On second thoughts, maybe not.

Actually, the micturating Northeasterner is only one of the many types of minor miscreants that I am happy to see given a taste of Belfast Aftershave. I have had some small successes with the local non-scooping dog-walkers, springing out at dawn on the least tough-looking of them and asking why they don't get their animals to do that (pointing) in front of their own houses. They bluster and claim they were completely unaware of their pooches' actions (whereas, in truth, they plan the defecation like a military operation), but they do not return.

Now - this victory behind me - I wish to wage war on another front. First, before I reveal my target, it is important that we agree about the salience of all this. Put simply, the more we tolerate impolite, anti-social and abusive behaviour, the worse it will get. It is true that modern society throws up all kinds of situations where the etiquette is not quite clear or has yet to develop. That's why there are so many arguments about where and when one can politely use a mobile phone or have one's pager go off.

But it is also true that there are many circumstances where we know perfectly well what the rules are, or ought to be, but where they are being broken with increasing impunity. And it is this that represents a slide away from considerate and polite behaviour, towards rude and ultimately criminal conduct.

So what is my new target? Well, I do not like people who either fail to hold heavy doors open for those behind them, or who fail to thank those who open doors for them. They must wait, however. For the fastest growing incivility that I see around me is those people who put their feet up on the seats of trains,

Now, when I was a teenager, with long hair, a combat jacket with "Yanks Out of Vietnam" written on it in Magic Marker and a rebellious attitude, I would not have dreamed of resting my desert boots on the seat opposite. Quite prepared to risk coitus interruptus, anxious to try cunnilingus (and able to spell it), happy to smoke the occasional joint and to hurl abuse at the American embassy in Grosvenor Square, I drew the line at placing my dirty shoes somewhere that my fellow citizen would have to sit. And, even if I hadn't, a guard or a stolid member of the working classes would soon have put me right.

What a falling off there has been since then! Last week, when travelling on the London Underground, I discovered that the seat upon which I wished to rest was already occupied by the muddy platforms of a pudgy young woman with frizzy hair and a pre-emptive scowl. I waved vaguely at her legs with my furled copy of The Independent - at which, giving me a look of complete contempt and uttering a seismic sigh, she slid her shoes slowly down from the upholstery. At that moment I wanted nothing more than that Ray Mallon should get on the train and pssstttt, zap her right in the kisser.

The terrible thing is, that if this young lady cannot see why she is wrong in this instance, she is also unlikely to worry about littering the streets, standing up for the infirm and pregnant, observing no smoking signs and singing Spice Girl numbers at the top of her tuneless voice at midnight outside the houses of decent couples with three children.

I am familiar with the usual arguments against taking stern action. But would the world really be such a boring place, so staid and unexciting, if we were to banish - with just an aerosol blast or two - some of the most selfish and unacceptable behaviour in our society? Is it really so colourful and cheerful to live in streets awash with wee and to sit on seats covered in crud? Pssttt!