Alternatives to catching criminals

Working in the community can be hard work. Doing good isn't all that easy, especially when there's very little money and hardly any support to go round. Inevitably, a lot of time is spent trying to raise funds to make things happen. In Britain that means applying to charitable trusts and all the quasi-governmental organisations like the National Lottery, and that means getting a bank account opened.

Ehhh, that's when life gets difficult. This week I turned up at my local bank with an application to open a bank account on behalf of the newest charitable venture in our area that I was supporting. I thought I had things ready. I had filled in the form and got my neighbour to sign it too. No chance, I was told. For a start, the Manager of the bank was on her lunch-break and couldn't see me until later.

I offered to come back the next day. That would be fine, I was told, as long as the two of us showed up. My colleague would have to be there too, in person. It was because they didn't know us, I was told.

I sympathised. After all, I could have been an international drug dealer seeking to launder my many millions of pounds of ill-gotten gains. I made an appointment for the following afternoon. The next morning, waiting for the appointed hour, I had a brain wave. Sure, the local bank didn't know me, but both of us who signed the form also had an account at the same bank at the main building in the city. They knew me there, I reasoned.

I'd go there and get the account opened. After all, I had the form all filled in and signed. What else would I need? Another form, I was told later. Yes, they knew me at the main branch of the bank, the woman assured me, but it was a 'new account' and they'd have to see both of us, in person, (just like the first person said).

No, I couldn't open the account then and there. I'd have to go away. Frustrated, I complied and moved on to my former appointment that afternoon, fearing that I'd only be met with another hurdle. Sure enough.

I hadn't filled in the 'application form', the right one. I had filled in the 'mandate form' okay, but that wasn't enough. There was a second form. I was sent away. Well yes, the answer to all the form filling and 'showing identification' and personal appearances, is that they want to avoid money launderers. So, I want to ask you this question ? all these precautions, do you honestly think that they would they really deter a real-life drug-dealing money launderer? From what I've seen of such people on the television, it wouldn't slow them up for one minute.

For a start, they probably have enough fake passports to convince a lowly bank teller that they are who they say they are. Failing that, they could offer a bribe (or send their lawyer in their place). If all else fails, they might kidnap the bank manager's wife and hold her hostage until the terrified man complies with their every wish. Wouldn't they? Yes, the problem with the real world is that the real criminals don't stick to the rules, (that's where they get the name 'criminal' from).

It's only the dazed and baffled ordinary citizen who gets stuck by these procedures. I've got another example. Ever been driving down the road, keeping to the speed limit, when you get overtaken by a real flash car, driving dangerously and speeding outrageously? What makes them think they can get away with exceeding the limit and breaking the rules? Because they do. A friend who's a policeman told me that the real criminals simply ignore all parking fines, resist all summonses and never turn up in court.

They guess ? probably rightly ? that the police department won't have the time or personnel to come and arrest them. The only people who break the law and pay the fines, he told me, are the law-abiding citizens. And another. In Britain, it's a fact that there are a number of people who claim to be out of work, draw unemployment benefits from the state, then go off and do work in secret and get paid for that too. The newspapers get all steamed up about these 'benefit cheats' and demand action. It adds up, they storm, to a total of over fifty million pounds a year.

Consequently, the government employs hundreds of investigators and sends them out to track down these 'criminals'. So far, so logical. What undercuts it is that the Internal Revenue department has calculated that the amount of tax they lose each year to people who cheat on their tax returns is over five hundred million pounds. That's ten times as much as the amount lost to people pretending not to be working when they are. Ten times.

What's the government's response? They employ investigators too. It's estimated that there are about a tenth of the number of investigators in the tax department as there are in the Benefits department. Ten times the money stolen, a tenth of the effort to catch those 'criminals'. What does that prove? That today, in our modern world, there are alternatives to catching criminals. One is to look as though you're doing something about it, as in the bank account example, when, in fact, you don't even inconvenience the real bad guys. The other is to allocate resources to the cases that are aggressively unpopular with the public, such as the 'unemployed' cheats, and do little about the cases that might elicit public sympathy, such as tax dodgers.

That way, you stay popular. You haven't done what you said you'd do, of course, which is to address the problem. But when did anyone have the time to notice that?.

Mike Scantlebury is an Internet Author and a born campaigner. When he's not against something, he's definitely in favour of it, and he'll tell you so, in novels, articles and stories. Look out for them. Currently resident in Manchester, England, he can tell you all about that in one of his many web sites. Find out more at http://www.mikescantlebury.com

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