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I was a police officer and detective rising to DI (captain in the US) for 26 years.
I’m a fairly hard nosed detective that doesn’t give much quarter to a criminal. I’ve dealt with quite possibly all types of major crime in one guise or another.
My wife is an altogether different animal. She is also a detective. She works in Child Protection dealing with the most depraved abuse one can imagine. She is even more hard nosed than me. Definitely no quarter!
We had a discussion this morning about white collar crime and my wife’s reaction was to shrug her shoulders and say “Oh well, it doesn’t really matter does it”.
I nearly fell off my chair.
I compared with her an executive criminal to a burglar. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t like burglars. But it seems to me, from my experience, society condemns them without a side-ways glance. It is completely unacceptable behaviour to break into someone’s home and steal from them. I would say the average burglar is maybe stealing around $2,000 to $10,000 worth of goods from a home. Of course they violate the home so that’s the really bad bit – not the property value.
Yet they’ll sell those goods for no more than a couple of hundred dollars/pounds.
They steal to live. Burglars are in the main from the bottom of the societal feeding pool. Usually un-employed, mostly with a habit to feed and definitely with no food in the cupboards at home. Those with a family still need to feed them. Yet my wife would say, it’s a personal choice to take drugs. Everyone knows the risks when they first do it and everyone knows how it’s going to turn out. And in that statement she writes off the entire population of burglars.
Now let’s turn to white collar criminals – and yes I do call them criminals.
One of the things that repeatedly concerned me in the police was the chasing of ‘easy prey’. The down-trodden. The ill-educated. The poor. I don’t have the statistics but I do have experience, and that experience tells me the average prisoner filtering through a police detention centre is below average intelligence, below average economically and below average health. I’m not here to sort out society.
But I am here to espouse equity.
Those that commit crime above the bottom tier are less likely to get caught. Not because they’re better at it but because the police don’t put resource into it. The police have access to a huge range of resource both technical and human. 90% of it is chasing burglars and their associate criminals. The rest is doing back office function. I say this having come through different periods of policing ‘style’. ‘Performance driven’ – that really does chase the down-trodden and the clear up rate becomes nirvana. ‘Austerity’, where no one was chased and virtually all specialist crime resource was reduced to skeleton provision – no-one chasing the white collar criminal then.
We have a post on this website about crime prevention. A large part of the theory and practice covered in it relates to the risk matrix facing any criminal. How raising the risk to them when committing a crime makes them think really carefully before committing it. For a burglar, he isn’t so easy displaced because they are stealing to live and have little to lose. But an executive? They have the lovely house in the Hamptons and little Rebecca’s bought education to fund – so they do have a lot to lose.
The theory goes that raising the risk will put them off committing the crime.
The average white collar criminal, even when caught, generally isn’t prosecuted. There’s usually a deal done somewhere down the line. The recent tax evasion scandal with Bank Hapoalim is a case in point. This case saw the bank hide nearly $8 billion from the US treasury in offshore accounts. They deliberately hid the accounts in false names and other tactics to help US wealthy citizens evade their tax.
The executive team at the bank knew this was endemic and yet authorised/approved of its use. The investigation has taken several years and I am not privy to what deals were done but it appears the entire executive team were let go and a new team put in place. Once that transition was made the bank started to co-operate with the US authorities and the rest is history.
Yet not a single executive is facing any charge for conspiracy to defraud the US. Even if a prosecution isn’t criminal, why no civil pursuit?
If we compare these individuals to the burglar.
- They are wealthy
- They have taken performance related bonuses
- They are acting in full knowledge.
- They have no need to steal to survive.
Yet they face no punishment?
At a time when the human race is facing the most significant threat in living memory, we need every tax dollar we can get our hands on. We need to properly resource hospitals and their staff. We need to provide full protective equipment to all front-line workers.
All of this money comes from people paying their taxes. It isn’t a choice. It’s a duty.
Yet society seems to accept white collar crime with a shrug of its shoulders and a ‘well why wouldn’t they’, passing comment.
I’m kind of hopeful that something good is going to come from COVID 19. Something that changes the way we live for the better. Not chasing the next car, or the bigger house, not polluting our air but recognising when we have all we need and society can function the way, morally at least, it should. But I fear that is looking at the world through rose tinted glasses. I fear we will simply return, when the lock-down is gone, to exactly the same process of greed is good. Because executive white collar crime is exactly that.