'Captain Good' Chews Out Criminals on the Air

Police captain succeeds with anticrime initiative

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Off camera he's the sweetest guy in the world - soft-spoken, sincere, eager to hear your point of view.

But catch him on TV, and he exclaims: ''You're nothing but punks!'' jabbing a finger at the camera. ''We've got a couple of names. We're getting more. When you go down, it will be for assault with a dangerous weapon. You're going to pay!''

Tough onscreen talk like that is typical of Captain Richard Pimental, chief of community policing in Taunton, Mass., a blue-collar city of some 50,000 located 30 miles south of Boston. This time the object of his wrath were youths who had hurled rocks at a bus full of senior citizens, smashing the windows, then taunting and terrorizing the driver and passengers after the vehicle had stopped.

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''Wouldn't it be nice if it were a bus filled with New England Patriots'' football players, Capt. Pimental says, smacking his lips at this vision of poetic justice. ''Then we would have seen those big brave fellows running.''

Pimental's TV persona, nicknamed ''Capt. Good,'' is the uniformed host of the popular ''Taunton Crime Watch,'' airing three times a week on local cable channel TCI and viewed by some 20,000 people. Just about anyone who victimizes citizens in this community could end up being held up for public scorn - from petty thieves to muggers to armed robbers.

His uninhibited denunciations have made him a local hero. ''He is very popular around here,'' says Craig Borges, City Editor of the Taunton Daily Gazette. ''The elderly and kids especially love him. He has a great rapport with the community.'' People come up to him on the street to thank him for saying publicly what they feel. His TV show - and the anticrime initiative called ''Taunton Cares'' of which it is a part - has attracted national attention.

Pimental's high visibility is powerful evidence of the victim's-rights movement and springs from the same source - a widespread sense of outrage by people who feel they aren't being heard. Their message: A breakdown is occurring not only of law and order but of simple human decency.

''One of the problems in societies like ours, where we value the individual and his rights,'' says Peter Kivisto, professor of Sociology at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., ''is the loss of some sense of shame and remorse. The fact that you can explain things leads to justifying it.''

In reaction to this trend, many people want swift justice and public exposure of wrongdoers, and they feel the system isn't providing it. But in Taunton, Pimental is. Besides his TV show and some radio shows, he drives a locally familiar van - he calls it the Goodmobile - to schools and community events. It is a rolling anticrime movement, filled with everything from a display of confiscated weapons and drug paraphernalia to safety handbooks and ''Junior Police'' badges.

''I feel on a daily basis the frustration, the pain, that happens to people who are robbed, beaten, or have things stolen that are very important to them and cannot be replaced, '' Pimental says in his office in the Taunton police station. Because of campaigns like his, ''People no longer ignore what happens to their neighbor,'' he maintains.

Some observers raise questions, however. Charles Rotman, professor of Psychology at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., approves of the fact that Pimental's work ''is an extension of the arm of the law to solid citizens who may be familiar with the criminal element within their local community.'' But the bad news, Prof. Rotman says, is that such tactics open ''a Pandora's Box which borders on the 1984 theme of 'Big brother is watching you' by introducing paranoia to all citizens.''

Mr. Borges says of Pimental, ''He's a friend of mine, and I like him, but on his show he handles low-level people. These poor souls don't care if their names are on the show, their lives are so messed up anyway. You don't see white-collar crime or the people who are responsible for bringing a lot of the drugs, the big dealers. It's the small potatoes.''

None of this bothers Pimental: ''I am letting people in my community know what is happening,'' he says. ''The public has a right to know who's in their midst. We've forgotten who the victims are. We've coddled these individuals through different philosophies for 30 years. That way is not working.

''I can show you an 11 percent decrease in crime for 1994,'' he says, noting that it reversed an eight-year rise in crime in the area.

Borges points out that crime has decreased nationally. ''I don't give his show the credit, but his community-police program definitely has had an effect,'' he says.

The bottom line, Pimental says, is that ''I represent a society that is fed up, and [my approach] will do until our so-called intellectuals get together another way of combating crime, because their way is not working.''

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