Wed, Aug 08, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Time for the Keystone Cops act to disappear

By Brian Kennedy 甘迺迪

"Hook and book" is American police slang for arresting a suspect and taking them to jail. The "hook" is hooking the suspect's hands together with the handcuffs; the "book" is booking the suspect into jail and turning the case over to prosecutors.

Depending on the context "hook and book" can refer to a case where the police did a very superficial or sloppy investigation. A common prosecutors' lament is "oh, all the cops did was hook and book this guy." The meaning being that the cops just went out and arrested someone without doing any investigation or follow up.

In this negative sense, hook and book is a way of life for Taiwan's police force. It is a standard operating procedure that ought to end, hopefully soon. Two recent news items have brought the issue of "hooking and booking" to public attention.

The first item was a meeting held between the Ministry of Justice and the National Police Administration ("Police, prose-cutors debate the handling of robbery cases," July 30, page 2). The NPA's concern was that the number of robbery suspects being released on bail was too high. The ministry's concern was that lackadaisical police investigation is having a negative impact on successful prosecutions.

As Tsai Pi-yu (蔡碧玉) director of the ministry's Prosecutorial Affairs Division commented, the most frequent problem prosecutors face is that police mishandle a case in the early stages of an investigation, creating more problems later. "Evidence [presented by the police] is often inadequate" she said.

This has certainly been my experience here in Taiwan. Police investigation largely consists of hook, book and squeeze a confession. It is not modern policing at its best.

The second item involves the US and Taiwan having agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding allowing bilateral judicial assistance and cooperation ("Taiwan, US plan anti-crime pact," Aug. 6, page 4).

This agreement, when finally signed, will allow for formal exchange of criminal information, access to court and prosecution documents and physical evidence, as well as transfer of criminal suspects. The pact would also allow law enforcement officers to question witnesses and defendants in each other's jurisdiction and allow mutual assistance for arresting fugitives and criminal suspects.

If you consider the two news items together, a couple of things become apparent.

First, the quality of police investigation in Taiwan is poor. Second, that quality of investigation is having a negative effect on domestic prosecutions and may have a negative effect on international prosecutions in the future. The "Keystone Cops" approach to policing taken by the NPA is becoming both increasingly apparent and unacceptable.

Poor police investigation should matter to the general public. It is an axiomatic but often overlooked fact that how effectively, how thoroughly and how competently the police handle their initial investigations will fundamentally effect how "just" the outcome of any criminal case is.

Correctly handled police investigations can clear the innocent and provide important evidence against the guilty. Poorly handled investigations can send an innocent person to prison or the gallows. Put simply, poor police work lets the guilty run free and the innocent face prison. The public needs to remember that every time the police foul up an investigation it means that a guilty criminal goes free and that does not lead to safe streets. The public should not accept a "Keystone Cops" approach to police investigation. "Hook and book" doesn't work.

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