The fact remains that the most direct way to act against crime is to make life as difficult as possible for the potential and actual criminal. This cannot be done cheaply. Increasing the number of police officers on patrol, providing the most up-to-date technology to assist detection, building and refurbishing prisons are bound to require continuing real increases in spending on law and order.

—Margaret Thatcher. The Path to Power, 1995.

Crime is not something occasionally indulged in by all people. Rather it is something practiced by a small percentage of people largely repetitiously; hence the expression career criminal. Criminals are a class of people who, for whatever reason, lack common decency. It is the duty of government to unceasingly persecute them until they have changed their ways or are taken off the streets for good.

Relationship to criminals

We can, indeed, do something about reducing the opportunities, by crime-prevention techniques such as ‘Neighborhood Watch.’ But in a world of greater mobility (where miscreants can more easily achieve anonymity and make their escape) and greater prosperity (where there is more to steal), the results of such strategies are bound to be limited. Moreover, although crime prevention may reduce the amount of ‘opportunist’ crime, it is only likely to displace the crime committed by determined habitual criminals from one area to another. Consequently, attention is increasingly focused on crime prevention at the level of the individual—the actual or potential delinquent—rather than on the physical environment in which a crime takes place.

—Margaret Thatcher. The Path to Power, 1995.

Crime is an avoidable phenomenon because each incident is directly attributable to the actions of a specific individual. Law enforcement should therefore focus on the individual criminal. Criminals must be taught to be good or be permanently incarcerated. This means apprehending them when they commit petty crimes like stealing a car, rather than waiting for them to kill someone during an armed robbery. It means following up released felons to ensure they are truly reformed and are living honest lives.

Relationship to solving crime

Crimes are more effectually prevented by the certainty of being caught than the severity of punishment … The certainty of a small punishment will make a stronger impression than the fear of one more severe.

—Cesare Beccaria. Of Crimes and Punishments, 1764.

Criminals do not commit a single crime and then go on to lead honest lives. Rather, they continue to commit further crimes until caught and properly punished and rehabilitated. Moreover, the deterrent value of punishments is only effective if criminals believe they will be caught and punished. Their experience will convince them they will be caught only if the police investigate and prosecute all crime relentlessly.

The importance of witness cooperation

The biggest single factor preventing the solving of crimes is witness cooperation. However, in criminal class communities a wall of silence tends to go up:

“We just had a murder on New Year’s morning of a 15-year-old at a house party where 40 people were in the room,” said Chief Ronald Teachman of New Bedford, Massachusetts. “It took us seven weeks to bring that charge—a case that should have been solved in seven minutes. It took 100 people interviewed, reinterviewed, neighborhoods canvassed, 40 people brought before the grand jury, and a half-dozen criminally charged for obstruction of justice, with more to follow, to bring that case.” (“The Stop Snitching Phenomenon,” U.S. Department of Justice, February 2009.)

When a serious crime takes place, there ought to be two investigations set up: one to find and prosecute the perpetrator, and the other to find and prosecute anyone who deliberately withholds information from the police, or fails to give them full and frank answers to their questions. Regular prosecutions and lengthy jail terms for those who evade this basic civic duty is a key factor in solving gang, drug, and mafia-related murder cases. People have no right to stonewall the police. To the contrary, obstructing justice directly assists criminals and therefore represents as much of an attack on society as the crime being investigated.

When the police are conducting an investigation and ask questions, they should read potential witnesses their obligations:

  • You are being questioned in the investigation of a murder. This interview is being recorded.
  • You are required by the law to answer fully and frankly all questions I put to you. If you hold back, if you fail to reveal information that you know may help the police solve this crime, you will face five years in jail.
  • Anything you say in this interview that incriminates you in a crime cannot be used against you as evidence in a court of law.
  • If you are charged with obstruction of justice your words in this interview will be carefully considered by a jury, so be as open and honest as you can.
  • The law is strict; if you fail to cooperate, there is no possibility you will be jailed for less than five years due to the serious nature of the crime being investigated. Do you understand these obligations?

The most effective way to change a culture of non-cooperation with the police is to rigorously prosecute non-cooperation.

Making unsolved crime impossible

The battle between decent society and the criminal is not a match between equal combatants. Photographs, fingerprinting, video recording, self-planting bugs, DNA-reading technology, pattern recognition software, databases, and as yet unknown future technologies will progressively make crime more and more difficult to get away with. Defeatists are wrong when they claim the ‘War on Drugs’ or the ‘War on Gangs’ is unwinnable. The wars on smallpox, typhoid, famine, and infant mortality were all won by persistence and technology—the battle against crime is no different.


Nearly all property crime can be defeated with the aid of registers of citizens, companies, business names, car parts, bonds, shares, qualifications, insurance, convictions, land title, DNA, and the like. Eventually there will be nothing left to steal that cannot be located with a few keystrokes. Likewise, there will be no fraudster whose infamy does not precede him.

Microdot identification

Microdot identification is a process whereby tiny microscopic dots containing a vehicle’s identification number are sprayed onto all the vehicle’s parts. This process prevents car thieves from selling stolen vehicles or their parts. Similar technology can be expanded to other high-value items such as computers, boats and outboard engines. Deploying this type of technology is crucial, because the discovery of stolen property invariably uncovers more serious crimes such as mugging, armed robbery, assault and murder.

Biometric scanning

When security cameras are connected to facial recognition software and from there to government registers of ex-felons, security guards can be alerted to closely monitor released criminals when they are in the vicinity. Additionally, cameras in suburban streets, airports, railway stations, service stations and schools can automatically summon police when a fugitive or illegal immigrant shows his face. When the same cameras are networked, pattern recognition software can deduce who was in the vicinity of multiple crimes, narrowing the list of suspects. Instead of killing fifteen or twenty people, serial killers can be halted after their first murder.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove