Batman, police & lowering crime

I recently saw the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, and it got me thinking…

I won’t spoil the movie for you, but I will tell you that it starts with a totally ridiculous premise: that a ‘tough on crime’ approach is effective.

The movie starts out with how Gotham City’s crime has significant decreased (if not disappeared) because of some ‘tough on crime’ law, called the Dent Act. The movie lost me here….

The idea that ‘tough on crime’ laws actually decrease crime is totally backwards. A lot of research has been done on this issue and nothing indicates that ‘tough on crime’ laws actually work. In fact, it’s been shown that ‘tough on crime’ laws (that put more people in jail) actually lead to increase in crime.

As stated in a previous column, Severe Punishments, there was an analysis in 1999 of over 50 studies, (involving over 336,000 offenders), which showed that prison sentences do not decrease the rate of re-offending. Prison sentences actually produce an INCREASE in re-offending.

So, what does lower crime? Well, addressing poverty and drug/alcohol use would be a great start: How To Prevent Crime. But, besides that, CERTAINTY of being caught and punished is actually a better deterrent of crime than ‘tough on crime’ laws.

So, how do we get there? How do we increase the certainty of punishment/being caught?

Sadly, we don’t have Batman. But, we do have crime fighters: police.

The problem we have though, is that police investigations often leave the door open, allowing criminals to ‘get off’ (hate that term)… I’ll explain….

When a criminal defence lawyer gets a new file, he/she typically combs through it, looking for mistakes (during the investigation). If mistakes were made (that violated someone’s Charter rights), then the investigation could be compromised and charges could go ‘poof’ (up in smoke).

When combing through criminal files, I, too, have thought, “If the federal government was so concerned about getting criminals off the streets, why isn’t more money/time spent on ensuring that criminal investigations are seamless?”

Before you jump down my throat and call me a ‘police hater’, let me explain. I respect and honour police. They put their lives at risk every day to ensure that we are safe and they do their best to take a ‘bite out of crime’. We all owe them a debt. But, there is room for improvement.

Criminal law is complicated and police have rules to follow. Those rules preserve our right to be free from police coming within our homes (and rummaging about). These rules also protect us from being arrested for no reason and also provide us with access to a lawyer after we are ‘taken in’.

I want our police to know these rules, inside and out. And, I want them to be able to follow these rules and make those hard decisions every time, preventing criminals from ‘getting off’. I bet that police want the same thing…

Now, I have heard some (frustrated) police say that it is very easy for lawyers to criticize police decisions ‘made in the moment’ and that hindsight is 20/20. Yes, that might be so. But, not all police decisions are made under blazing gunfire. We expect our doctors, lawyers, nurses, and other skilled workers to make correct decisions in the ‘heat of the moment’… Mistakes will inevitably be made; we’re all human, but there’s room for improvement.

Some police officers seem to rarely make mistakes (which is fantastic). But, at the same time, we know that some police make mistakes… Whenever you hear that someone charged with a crime ‘got off’ through a ‘loophole’ or a ‘technicality’, it often means that a police officer didn’t follow the rules…

So, what can we do?

Well, one thing that has been tried is changing the laws, decreasing the hurdles that police have to jump over, which is what happened with impaired driving laws in BC: Decriminalizing Drunk Driving.

I have a better idea: how about provide police with more legal training? Really, who can say that more training/knowledge isn’t a good thing, whether for a police officer or for any other skilled professional? We have a saying at our office: “legal research is never a waste of time”.

Or, how about hire more officers so the existing officers aren’t stretched at the seams? If that happens, maybe officers will be better able to confer with each other about tough decisions.

And with all that said, I am proud of our officers and wouldn’t trade them for Batman.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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