Cut-out Cops


I fully expect that readers of Theommentary are an upright, law-abiding bunch of citizens. But speaking from a purely hypothetical perspective, would you be deterred from committing a crime in the presence of a cut-out cop–a life-sized cardboard replica of a police officer strategically located at gas stations, drugstores, or ATM machines?  Police administrators in the UK think so. In fact, they have spent over £20,000 (I’m guessing that’s about $40,000 CDN) to produce these fake cops. Frankly, my first reaction is: Just how dumb do they think people are? Or is there really something to it? Is there something deliciously subliminal or subconscious at work here? Is even the hope of an initial deterrance for crime intrinsically worth something?

From a theological perspective, I would say that people are rather resilient in their sin. Granted, the initial impression from even a perceivedpresence of the “law” might in fact cause the would-be criminal to think twice before snitching that Snickers, or sneaking off from the self-serve station without shelling out. But I’d bet it will be only be temporary reaction. Indeed, as Paul says in Roman 1:30, sinners are adept at “inventing ways of doing evil”–like stealing a cut-out cop for a neato rec-room prop.

So let’s do a little theological exercise here: Let’s suppose you were on the committee trying to decide whether spending a few thousand bucks to place fake cops in strategic places. What theological or ethical reasoning might you use to help persuade the rest of the committee one way or the other? Better yet, try to convince me that such a tactic is really a good use of tax payers’ money…


7 thoughts on “Cut-out Cops

  1. Dale Harris

    Maybe the theological question here is about the power of the image. Why were there riots in the 1st C. Jerusalem when the state set up an image of its power (an eagle) in the Temple precincts? Why do we emboss the image of our rulers and governors on the denarii we use to pay state taxes? Why do we adorn our places of business and entertainment with glossy images of our idols? Does the image have any power to sway thought and action? How dumb are we after all?

  2. Glenn Runnalls

    Of course the British are famous for their use of decoys during WW2.

    Beyond this, being more on the shady side of things with occasional lapses into normalcy, i know that people who are likely to be deterred by these cutouts would never stare at them.

    So while we would not be surprised that a law-abiding citizen would notice that it was a cut out and not a cop, we should not be surprised that someone who’s up to no good (someone with a shifty eye) would respond to the “danger” without looking at the detail.


  3. Brad Penner

    Rather than a cut-out cop, why not put a slogan like: God is watching you! A smart thief would not steal the cut-out cop, but use it to his/her advantage in that the cut-out cop might give shop-owners, etc. a false sense of security and relax their vigilance to be on guard for the thief (sounds biblical).

    This tactic may help for those who have something left of a conscience in our western society and may think twice about stealing, but for those with a seared conscience (sounds biblical again) it will only help to aid and abet them in their kelptomania.

    I agree with Dale that images are powerful and that a cut-out cop would probably make some people think twice (especially me), but I aslo agree with the Theommentator (said in a strong Arnold Schwarzeneger voice) that humans have an innate proclivity to use what is meant for good and use it for evil.

    Nothing beats a flesh-and-blood human confronting (and possibly arresting) a would-be thief.

    Theologically speaking (as if I wasn’t already), God does not confront us in our law-breaking with a cut-out of himself that does not talk, move or seek out our best even if it means pain for him, but in the Incarnate Word as Jesus of Nazareth who never stole nor even thought equality with God a thing to be grasped at.

    Tax-payers should not foot the bill for this because theives are smart, cunning, masters of manipulation, and they will find someway around the cut-outs who can’t even yell Freeze! because they are frozen themselves.

  4. I understand that decoys have been used in other locations, in particular decoys that look like a cop holding a laser radar gun standing beside a road. I also understand that they have been somewhat successful, but don’t quote me on that.

    Decoys are likely most effective in deterring crimes of opportunity such as the guy driving by a store to see if anyone is inside before entering to hold up the cashier. In such cases the potential crime is likely deflected to a more inviting looking location. If you are the guy who didn’t get robbed, I guess they work.

    Theologically…given the chance to sin in secret instead of possible exposure, most would likely chose the secret path. If a cut out reminds the sinner that what they do in secret is seen by God then at least it communicates a truth…a truth that maybe ignored, but a truth none-the-less.

    Of course one might ask if it is possible to be a “cut out christian”–look the part, but lifeless.

  5. Dustin

    Could this issue possibly be viewed in analogy with how some of the Fathers viewed Israel’s temple cult? For Irenaeus, at least, the temple cult did not accomplish anything “real” in the sense of satisfying God’s supposed hunger for blood or expiating sin etc. Rather, the temple cult was instituted as a pedagogical tool in the shaping of the people of God. It was an “image” that helped to restrain the sin of God’s people and to prepare them for the coming Messiah.

    The image of a cop does not bear the effectual authority of a representative of the state, but as the image of such an authority, it may nevertheless serve that authority as a reminder.

    The cut-out cop’s short-coming, however, is that it is not a particularly formative image. It lacks real pedagogical value. That is to say, it may remind us of the reality of police, but its capacity is rather meagre to teach us to relate properly to such authority, let alone to righteousness for its own sake. Furthermore, for the Church a cut out cop lacks an aspect of gospel as an intrinsic element in its image–it portrays pure judgment. As an image, the temple cult aimed both to stem sin and also to point to Christ. Perhaps only the former aspect is all that can be expected from the state.

    Just some random thoughts…

  6. GMAC

    The animal world might give us some clues here, too. So we have a pidgeon problem and we stuck a plastic owl up there. The pidgeons stayed away for at least a couple of hours…

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