Police shouldn't catch criminals?

The primary role of the police is to prevent crime, not catch criminals, the chief inspector of constabulary for England and Wales has said.

Tom Winsor said focusing on would-be offenders, likely victims and potential crime hotspots would save taxpayers' money and keep more people safe.

But "primitive" technology is limiting officers' ability to do that, he added.
Source BBC News.

I remember as a kid having a nice policeman come to our school and tell us nowadays crime prevention was where it was at. We were given a few stickers, sang a song, told to be careful of strangers and do our bit by thinking about criminals and how to prevent them from stealing things from us. On the surface of it this seemed like a great idea and for years I swallowed the dogma about "prevention being better than the cure".

In the comic book 2000AD there's a character called Judge Anderson. She's a futuristic cop from the same world as the more famous character, Judge Dredd, but unlike him she has psychic powers and can read people's minds. This means she's able to take crime "prevention" to a whole new level and, being a satire, the strip deals with the serious issues such a policy inevitably incurs. If someone thinks about commiting a crime should you arrest them in advance?

Oh, come on Nick, this is bo---cks, the police aren't talking about that sort of thing.

Not yet they're not but it's a possibility in the future. Online profiling is still in its early stages but already there's a lot of evidence to suggest that criminal "types" can be spotted very early on if you have an idea what websites they're looking at. The obvious profiling for terrorists and sex offenders has begun to seem like common sense, it won't be long until any incriminating evidence you leave online regarding less serious crimes will become more widely used, I suspect.

Judge Anderson, and most of the world Dredd inhabits, was clearly inspired by Philip K Dick. I strongly suggest you read his work.

The Dark Judges: Equally badass, less sexy.
The writers of Dredd do not generally deal in subtlety so there is another character from the same story called Judge Death. He thinks the best way to stop crime is to kill everyone before they can do anything wrong. What is this if not the most effective form of crime prevention? The strategy our new "Chief inspector" is advocating taken to its logical extreme. Judge Death's world has existed for thousands of years without a single living inhabitant. Crime is a thing of the past. The tactic works, but at what cost?

The alternative to these "crime preventers" is Dredd, the strip's main character. All he does is apply the law. He turns up, kicks-butt arrests criminals and doles out the maximum sentence. I'll be amazed if there is so much as one comment underneath this blog entry that thinks that is a bad way of doing things. I'll assume it's trolling. No one disagrees with that tactic, unless they disagree with the law itself.

I remember watching a lad at our school once get punched square in the jaw for no reason whatsoever. The guy in question was minding his own business and the person who smacked him one had no quarrel with him particularly, he just fancied punching someone to see what happened. As a crowd gathered and stories about the event were swapped I was astonished to hear the number of people who said, "yeh, but he must have said something, he's asked for it didn't he?" and so on.

No, no he didn't. It was a random act of violence. It happens. What I have come to realise over the years is that these apologists who tried to pretend the unprovoked random act of violence was in some way the victims fault are in fact making excuses to themselves and ducking the awful reality of random acts of violence. They want to believe that such a thing could not happen to them because they'd never do the bad thing in the first place.

For me this is the same as blaming someone who gets their sat nav stolen from a car by some druggie or a woman who gets raped for wearing a short skirt. It's the abused victim being told it's their fault because no one really cares to confront the reality: some people are bad and do bad things[1].

Notice the crucial word there, "some". Not all, not everyone, not me, not you. Some people. Prevention assumes we're all to blame for crime as opposed to the criminal themselves. I strongly suspect it's in fact a tiny, tiny, tiny minority who are responsible for actual crimes[2]. Google the phrase "one man crime wave" to discover how frequently it is the case that statistics show only a very small proportion of people break the law. Why should we all take the blame for their actions?

If we locked people up who actually attack body or property and left everyone else to get on with things it would be a much better world. Why the police are so insistent on not doing that is worth questioning. I strongly suspect it's because one strategy gives them more overall power and influence than the other.


[1] Oh boo hoo, you had a bad life. Don't break people's jaws and I'll be sympathetic.
[2] No, I don't mean tax fraud and parking offences. I mean attacking someone's body or property. Not catching someone smoking in a pub or downloading some pop music on the internet.


Anonymous said…
The whole "don't make yourself a victim of crime" thing irks me also. But then, if home office sentencing guidelines discourage custodial sentences then it has to be accepted as a fact of life that there are criminals free to roam the streets. Blame politicians for this state of affairs, not the rozzers at the sharp end.

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