Recently, I was listening to the end of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Check-up. The subject was about major frauds, and the speaker was Peter German, a man whom I have tremendous respect. The theme of his conversation was to let people know police resources are becoming scarce, and fraud becoming so prevalent that victims should not expect their cases, unless major in nature, to be getting the attention they feel they deserve.
Of course, he is correct in this presumption, but I fear it may lead the public to believe they should not even go to the police with their complaint if it does not meet the threshold of “major”. It may also encourage officers to trivialize an incident and not take the report. This is an incorrect conclusion; all crimes are important to be reported to police. There is no other way for them to know what crime trends are developing or catch serial criminals in their jurisdictions.
When I was a rookie cop, I noticed a clipboard at the police station’s front counter. It was for citizens to report the theft of Christmas lights. The new fashion, in the late 60’s and 70’s, was to decorate the outside of houses and lawns with festive strings of lights. Back in the day, these were not cheap. How tempting for some folks seeing a perfect set of lights sitting on a front lawn or porch. For police, of course, it was a crime with little chance of solving and no way to trace the purloined property.
With police resources being stretched, attending to stolen Christmas lights reporting by phone or at the police station was the remedy. Nowadays, this form of self-reporting has become commonplace but was quite novel for the time. This method turned fruitful for one officer who found a local Christmas tree merchant who had a side hustle of selling light strings he “found” on front lawns.
Deterring people from reporting crimes can create an inaccurate crime picture in their community.
In another more personal scenario, my wife became a victim of a bounced cheque from a customer in her bookstore. She tried contacting the person several times to make good on the outstanding amount, but it became obvious it was not going to be paid. She contacted police, on my advice, to report the incident. Local police refused to take the report, citing departmental policy on bad cheques.
When I contacted the officer, he said NSF cheques were too numerous for them to investigate and it was a civil matter between my wife and the writer. I pointed out there was a difference between reporting a crime and investigating it. We had no real expectation of getting the money back but wanted police to record the incident in case there was a series of victims by the same person. Luckily, he agreed with me; I can assume it was because I worked with a nearby larger police service’s fraud squad at the time. Once they recorded the incident, they found the same person had been passing a lot of bad cheques both in their jurisdiction and surrounding agencies as well. After a minor NSF cheque turned into a major cross-jurisdiction fraud, this agency changed their policy.
When I listened to Peter German, I felt his talk spot-on but inadvertently fell short of his intentions. It is important for people to know they must, at the very least, report the incident to police. If for little other reason than to reduce the chances of further victimization.
Many police agencies as of late have begun to think and react to incidents out of an attitude of scarcity of resources. Deterring people from reporting crimes can create an inaccurate crime picture in their community. Of course, fewer crimes being reported means a better police success rate ratio that paints an inaccurate picture to the community. Keep in mind that a criminal’s dream is to work in an environment of anonymity and blindness to their acts.
No crime is too small… no victim too trivial.
Morley Lymburner, U.E., M.S.M., is the former creator and publisher of Blue Line magazine.
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