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Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Death and Taxes - and Crime

Like death and taxes, crime is one of the inevitables of life. Perhaps it's time to get over it. That would be one way of keeping down the prison population.

I am regularly a victim of crime. I set up shop at stamp exhibitions [ I am a stamp dealer by trade ] and stuff gets nicked. Sometimes I notice, sometimes I don't. You are not much of a victim of crime if you don't actually notice it. There was once an Arab sheikh, alarmed to be visited in his London hotel room by the police. They had come to tell him that his credit cards had been misused. For a million. Really? he replied.

When you do notice it, you then have to decide whether to report it. Is it worth the time? Is it worth going to court for? Will you yourself get into trouble? As a young man studying in Paris, I had my room burgled and money stolen. I spoke to a neighbour: I wouldn't go to the police, if I were you, she said; it will be a lot of trouble, and besides you are a foreigner. With long hair.

But suppose you persist. You detect it, you report it. The police file the report and that's the end of the matter. How are they supposed to catch the criminal? It's alright when it's a case of someone with an uncontrollable temper hitting someone right in front of a police officer. Or someone who walks into the police station and says, "It was me". But otherwise, it's a lot of work, catching criminals and to be honest, we can't be bothered.

For that, we should be grateful. If you had a nearly one hundred percent on-the-ball, efficient, motivated and sophisticated police force, unwilling to let any crime go unpunished, you would also have nearly one hundred percent of the population with a criminal record. Is that really desirable?

What is desirable is that the police try to prevent crimes which shatter people's lives and pursue those guilty of such crimes. That means protecting children and other vulnerable groups from violence and intimidation. It means taking seriously women who phone up to say they are terrified their ex -partner or their family is going to kill them. I would be willing to let an awful lot of crimes go unpursued if that meant that really horrible crimes were prevented or their perpetrators always hunted down and punished.

Instead, it seems police resources are still disproportionately allocated to pursuing small-time drug dealers selling weed or women sex workers whose offence is to offend rather than harm. And so on. Let it go, I say. Nothing terrible will happen. I am still in business even though stuff gets nicked.


Added 24 July 2018: An expanded version of this Blog post forms a chapter of my book The Best I Can Do (degree zero 2016), a paperback freely available from Amazon, Waterstones and other booksellers.

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